Monday, 30 March 2015

Israeli search and rescue team heads to Germanwings crash site

An Israeli search and rescue unit has flown to the scene of the Germanwings plane crash disaster in the French Alps to assist in the mission to recover victims.

The delegation of eight ZAKA International rescue unit volunteers flew in the early hours of Monday morning, and will arrive later that day.

ZAKA is a voluntary organisation that specialises in search and rescue operations.

Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, agreed to the request of the family of Israeli victim, Eyal Baum, to bring ZAKA from Israel.

They will look to recover and identify the remains of victims, including Eyal Baum, who it is hoped will be given a full Jewish burial in Israel.

The delegation will be led by ZAKA International Rescue Unit head Mati Goldstein and ZAKA International Rescue Unit Chief of Operations Chaim Weingarten.

Monday 30 March 2015

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Painstaking search for bodies of 2,600 soldiers buried alive in Second World War caves gets underway

A painstaking operation to recover the bodies of thousands of soldiers left sealed in caves since the Second World War is underway.

More than 2,600 Japanese troops are believed to have been entombed in explosive-ridden underground networks on a remote coral island in the Pacific nation of Palau.

Local and Japanese archaeologists, guided by munitions experts, have begun a delicate search of about 200 sealed caves, which are littered with unexploded bombs.

The soldiers were trapped underground during heavy bombing as US forces invaded the six-mile long island to take a strategic air field in one of the deadliest battles of the war.

Japanese forces used the caves as a base to defend the island and connected the underground shelters with a network of tunnels and passageways.

More than 10,000 Japanese troops were killed during the ten-week invasion but the bodies of 2,600 were never recovered.

Palau officials have now agreed to open about 200 sealed caves to try and locate the remains ahead of a visit early next month by Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Gaining access to the caves, located in thick forest littered with explosives, is proving difficult and experts took five days to break into just a small seven-foot opening last week.

But archaeologists have already recovered a set of bones which are believed to be human and are due to be sent to Japan for testing.

"They found some bones while they were clearing the entrance of the cave," Bernadette Carreon, a local journalist, told ABC Radio. "They did not use heavy equipment because they have to make it clear of heavy ordnance. When it's clear, the archaeologists can go in and start bone collection."

Families of the missing soldiers have sent representatives to assist with the search and officials in Palau have worked closely with Japan in the past to return any discovered remains home.

Sachio Kageyama, from a group representing families and fellow soldiers of those who fought on the island, told The Japan Times: "I hope the forthcoming visit by the emperor will pave the way for [further] collection of remains."

Experts searching for the missing soldiers are also hoping to locate a long-lost mass grave on the western side of the island.

Documents indicating its location were found in a US naval museum two years ago, including a map pointing to a "Japanese cemetery" in the centre of the island.

US officials have also been searching coral reefs, lagoons and islands surrounding Palau for planes that were lost in the bloody conflict.

Monday 30 March 2015

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Flood in J&K: 8 bodies recovered from Budgam District; rescue operation intensified

After battling massive floods last September, Jammu & Kashmir once again finds itself submerged as heavy rainfall lashed several parts of the state causing deaths and destruction. To make matters worse, the water level in river Jhelum has crossed the danger mark in Srinagar and Sangam region.

Eight dead bodies were recovered from Budgam district even as the state government has intensified the rescue operation in the flood-hit regions of Jammu & Kashmir. Over 21 people are still missing and the state authorities have very little hopes of finding them alive, according to an ANI report.

Two houses at Chadoora area in Kashmir's Budgam district have sunk into the ground and 16 people are feared trapped inside them, Hindustan Times reported.

Following the heavy rainfall on Friday that continued till Sunday, the water level in Jhelum at 6am crossed the danger level of 21 feet at Sangam and reached the 22.4-ft mark. In Ram Munshi Bagh, the water level has reached 18.8 ft against the danger mark of 18 ft, a senior official said, according to PTI.

The state administration has evacuated people living on the banks of river Jhelum and in the view of the increasing water level, residents of low-lying areas have been asked to move to safer places.

Though the rain has subsided since Monday morning, an alert has been sounded as in the eventuality of water level crossing the 23-ft mark, massive rescue and evacuation operation will be required, a government spokesperson said.

Two teams of at least 100 personnel, 50 each, of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) have been deployed in Srinagar. Flood relief camps are also being set up in the affected areas.

"The administration is on full alert following heavy rains in the Valley and the situation is being monitored continuously," deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh told the J&K Assembly. Chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed visited Srinagar on Sunday and will again pay a visit to the affected regions to monitor the situation.

The rainfall had earlier caused massive damage in parts of the state. At least 44 structures, including 26 residential buildings, were destroyed. The heavy unseasonal downpour has worst affected the farmers, who have suffered immense loss of winter crops.

Last September, more than 200 people were killed and over 300 villages were submerged in flood water while several thousands were affected.

Monday 30 March 2015

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Searchers make roadway to remote France air crash web site

French investigators hope to speed up identification of the 150 individuals killed in last week's Germanwings plane crash by digging a roadtrack that will enable direct access to the disaster zone higher on a remote Alpine mountainside.

Earthmovers are ploughing a track to the remote crash region that really should be completed by Tuesday or Wednesday, stated Xavier Vialenc, spokesman for 350 military police involved in the search for bodies and components of the pulverized Airbus A320.

"We'll get some time with that," stated Vialenc, adding that physique parts with 78 diverse DNA prints had so far been found.

Up to now, a group of about 15 military police with the process of combing by way of debris have had to be helicoptered into the rocky Alpine ravine or make their way there on foot, but bad weather has hampered helicopter drops, slowing the approach.

Bad weather has halted helicopter flights to the site, forcing investigators to get there on foot.

An access road to the remote site is being dug by a bulldozer to provide all-terrain vehicles with access to the area and could be completed by Monday evening.

An improved route will help investigators bring heavier recovery equipment to the scene.

Vialenc confirmed that the second of the plane's "black box" flight recorders had yet to be found. They hope that will build on the facts from a 1st flight recorder that has led judicial investigators to think the plane was deliberately driven into the mountainside by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz.

All 150 on board, largely German and Spanish, have been killed in the March 24 crash of the plane that was flying from Barcelona to Duesseldorf.

As investigators continued their search, staff from German airline Lufthansa and its Germanwings low-price subsidiary had been deployed to assistance 325 relatives of victims who are getting housed at a hotel in the southern French port city of Marseille, from exactly where they can be ferried closer to the disaster zone.

Monday 30 March 2015

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Sunday, 29 March 2015

Şanlıurfa traffic pile-up leaves 12 dead, 11 injured

A traffic accident involving a minibus, a car and a concrete mixer truck killed 12 people and injured 11 others in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa on Sunday.

The accident took place on the Şanlıurfa-Akçakale Highway, with heavy fog and rain negatively affecting driving conditions. A minibus reportedly changed lanes without warning and crashed into a concrete mixer coming from the opposite direction. A car travelling behind the concrete mixer then smashed into the collided vehicles.

A total of 12 people were killed and six others critically injured. Four Syrian nationals were reported to be among the casualties, in addition to young children. The injured were taken to nearby hospitals for treatment, while the bodies of those killed were taken to the morgue of the Şanlıurfa Council of Forensic Medicine, where autopsies will be carried out.

Deadly traffic accidents are a common occurrence on Turkey's highways. In the Central Anatolian province of Kayseri, a bus crash recently claimed the lives of 21 passengers and injured nearly 30 others.

A report released by the National Police Department's Road Services Directorate in late December revealed that at least 3,253 people died at the scene of road accidents in Turkey while 262,193 were injured and taken to hospital between January and November of 2014. During this period, a total of 343,855 accidents occurred due to drivers not following traffic laws, according to the report.

The report also says that in urban areas, on average 28,301 road accidents occurred per month, of which an average of 146 people died at the scene of the accident and 17,794 were taken to hospital for treatment.

The death toll for the number of people who died despite being taken to hospital was not included in the statistics but is estimated to exceed 5,000 per month. According to the report, the main cause of road accidents is driver error. Drivers were estimated to be at fault in 130,522 accidents, while 15,729 accidents were caused by pedestrians.

Sunday 29 March 2015

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Germanwings Flight 4U9525: more on the forensic identification effort

A leading professor who is helping to identify the 600 body parts belonging to the victims of the doomed Germanwings flight says he will be haunted forever by the grim task - as it was revealed the remains of killer co-pilot Andreas Lubitz have already been found.

Professor Michael Tsokos, Germany's most prestigious forensic scientist, said experts are working around the clock to identify the remains of the 150 passengers and crew who were killed when Lubitz deliberately flew the Airbus A320 into the French Alps.

Investigators at the Germanwings crash site have so far retrieved about 600 body parts and have managed to isolate 78 distinct DNA strands from the remains.

Mr Tsokos admitted that Lubitz's remains were among those which had been found and said DNA testing had confirmed the body parts were his. It is hoped his remains may provide clues on any medical treatment he was receiving.

Scientists are now continuing the grim and gruelling task of identifying the rest of the remains which involves photographing and 3D scanning each and every body part.

Police have asked friends and families of the deceased to provide DNA samples and experts hope to match them against the remains and material objects found at the crash site.

Items with vital traces of DNA, such as toothbrushes, razors, jewellery and hair have been collected from the scene and given to scientists at a laboratory in Barcelona. Forensic officers have also been testing samples at a mobile laboratory in Seyne-les-Alpes - the nearest town to the crash site.

It is hoped the findings will provide some clues which will help identify the victims.

Families are also being asked if they can remember what clothes their loved ones were wearing when they boarded the ill-fated flight, in the hope the details could help with the identification process.

They have also been asked about any distinctive marks, such as tattoos, their loves ones might have as well as their dental status and whether they wore dentures.

Mr Tsokos, director of the Institute of legal medicine and forensic sciences, said it is hoped such findings will help identify the remains which will then be cross-examined with the flight's passenger list.

He said each body part would be photographed and scanned in 3D before being placed in a morgue. Once the body has been identified it will be placed in a closed coffin ready for a funeral.

He told German newspaper Bild: 'Radiologists with mobile devices will take CT images of body parts, so as to recognise for example, medically-implanted foreign bodies such as a pacemaker or artificial hip joints.

'Specially trained forensic scientists take [samples] of fingers and palms fingerprints and everything is photographed. 'Every little piece of fabric will be tested on the DNA so that it can be assigned to a particular person.'

He said that within the next three weeks, up to 95 per cent of all victims should be identified. But, he added that it was a haunting task for experts, saying: 'These images will never go out of my head.'

And he said the bodies will strictly be kept in closed coffins because the 'sight of battered corpses can inflict on anyone'. It comes as guards continue to keep 24-hour watch at the crash site, with teams sleeping on the mountainside overnight.

The guards have been on standby at the scene in the province in the southern French Alps since the flight crashed on Tuesday. Philippe Thomy, deputy chief of the High Mountain Gendarmerie, said: 'We sleep next to a cemetery for 150 people.'

Prosecutor Brice Robin revealed today that an access road was currently being built for all-terrain vehicles to reach the site to help with the removal of large parts of the plane.

Mr Robin said the operation could be completed by Monday night, with all body parts and remains being removed from the site within the next seven days.

Sunday 29 March 2015

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More flight MH17 victims' remains flown to Netherlands for burial

Three coffins carrying victim's remains from the MH17 disaster have been flown from Ukraine to the Netherlands. A farewell ceremony including a guard of honour was held in Kharkiv on Saturday, before the Royal Netherlands Air Force plane took off, bound for Eindhoven. Representatives from the Australian and Dutch embassies attended the ceremony.

More wreckage of the Boeing 777 has been found at the crash site by investigators, who are arranging to transport it by road to the Netherlands.

"As of today, we have identified 296 bodies from all 298 people onboard meaning it is one of the highest numbers in the history of this kind of identification".

Flight MH17 was en-route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17 last year, when the plane was hit by a missile fired from territory controlled by Russian-backed militants. All 298 onboard died. Officials thanked the Kharkiv authorities for helping transfer the bodies.

Sunday 29 March 2015

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12 bodies recovered in Indonesia landslide

Rescuers have found 12 bodies after a landslide hit Sukabumi district in Indonesia's West Java province on Saturday night, an Indonesian official said on Sunday.

Soldiers, volunteers and policemen were engaged in searching for the missing people under the debris of the damaged houses. With the discovery of all the victims, the operation was terminated, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesperson of the national disaster management agency.

"All the 12 bodies have been found," Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying.

Heavy downpour triggered the collapse of a hill in Tegal Panjang village around 10.30 p.m. on Saturday and buried 11 houses, said the spokesperson.

The landslide also buried a road and as many as 300 people fled their homes to take shelter elsewhere, he said.

Landslides are common in Indonesia during heavy downpours.

Sunday 29 March 2015

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DNA from 78 Germanwings crash victims found

Forensic teams have isolated 78 distinct DNA strands from body parts at the Germanwings crash site in the French Alps, while investigators continued their grim task in the arduous mountain terrain.

As well as trying to identify and return bodies to their families, search teams were also hunting for a second "black box" that has yet to be found six days into the search.

The challenges of working on the steep and remote mountainside have been compounded by the violence of the impact -- the plane is said to have crashed into the mountainside at a speed of 700 kilometres (430 miles) per hour, killing all 150 people on board.

"We haven't found a single body intact," said Patrick Touron, deputy director of the police's criminal research institute.

He said the difficulty of the recovery mission was "unprecedented".

"We have slopes of 40 to 60 degrees, falling rocks, and ground that tends to crumble," said Touron. "Some things have to be done by abseiling."

Search teams on the mountain were attached at all times to specialist mountain police.

So far, forensic teams have isolated 78 DNA strands from recovered body parts, said prosecutor Brice Robin, one of the lead investigators.

He said an access road was also being built to the site to allow all-terrain vehicles to remove some of the larger parts of the plane.

Helicopters have been going back and forth to the nearby town of Seynes -- around 60 trips a day.

"Since safety is key, the recovery process is a bit slow, which is a great regret," Touron said.

Most body parts were being winched up to helicopters before being transported to a lab in the nearby town of Seynes where a 50-strong team of forensic doctors and dentists and police identification specialists is working.

Between 400 and 600 body parts were currently being examined, Touron said.

The smallest details can prove crucial: fingerprints, jewellery, bits of ID card, teeth.

"In catastrophes, normally around 90 percent of identifications are done through dental records," Touron added, but in the case of flight 9525, DNA was likely to play a greater role than normal.

Once DNA samples have been taken, they are sent to another lab outside Paris, where they are compared to samples taken from family members this week.

The other top priority is finding the second "black box".

"You have to be there to understand what we're dealing with," said one policeman, returned from the site.

"There is an engine turbine that was thrown 400 metres up from the point of impact."

The debris of the plane is spread across some two hectares (five acres) of mountainside.

The rescue teams, however, are not giving up.

"The teams are highly motivated," said Stephane Laout, from one of the mountain brigades.

The second black box is also known as the "Flight Data Recorder", which logs all technical data from the flight.

"It has been the priority from the start. It's essential for the investigation," said Captain Yves Naffrechoux, another mountain ranger.

"If it has not been completely destroyed or pulverised, the black box will be under the rubble and debris. We must work with caution and a lot of precision."

The black box -- which is actually orange in colour and weighs around 10 kilos -- was originally in a protective casing, but the empty casing has already been found.

"We have to look under every last bit of plane and lift every rock," said Naffrechoux

Sunday 29 March 2015

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Saturday, 28 March 2015

The sinking of the Sultana: A disaster lost in the lingering fog of the Civil War

The men on the boat had seen all manner of death and despair.

They had witnessed friends and fellow soldiers shot dead on muddy battlefields. They had endured dirty, disease-ridden Confederate prison camps in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. They were tired and injured, sick and underfed.

But, in late April 1865, they also were happy and relieved.

Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. The Civil War had drawn to a close and, however improbably, they had survived it.

Months earlier, on Christmas Day, a Union soldier from Ohio named John Clark Ely had sat in a prison camp in Mississippi, wondering whether he would see home again. “Such a day for us prisoners. Hungry, dirty, sleepy and lousy,” he wrote in his journal. “Will another Christmas find us again among friends and loved ones?”

Now he seemed to have his answer.

Ely was among the more than 2,000 paroled Union prisoners of war, many of them still teenagers, crowded aboard the steamboat Sultana as it pulled away from the docks at Vicksburg, Miss., on April 24. They were headed up the Mississippi River, bound for their farms and families in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and other places they hadn’t set eyes on in far too long.

“Oh, this is the brightest day of my life long to be remembered,” Ely wrote before the trip commenced.

The brightness would not last.

“All of these guys were on their way home after going through so many ordeals,” said historian and author Alan Huffman. “People were just dying around them constantly for four years. You set foot on this boat and you think you’re on your way home. You’re home free. And really, the worst was ahead.”

For two days, the woefully overcrowded boat lurched northward. Melting snow in the north had contributed to one of the worst spring floods in memory. The Sultana stopped in Memphis on April 26 and continued north later that night. About 2 a.m., seven miles upriver from Memphis, a boiler exploded. Two more exploded in rapid succession, visiting yet another hell on men who had already endured so much.

“Some were killed instantly by the explosion. Others awoke to find themselves flying through the air, and did not know what had happened,” Huffman wrote in his book, “Sultana: Surviving the Civil War, Prison, and the Worst Maritime Disaster in American History.” “One minute they were sleeping and the next they found themselves struggling to swim in the very cold Mississippi River. Some passengers burned on the boat. The fortunate ones clung to debris in the river, or to horses and mules that had escaped the boat, hoping to make it to shore, which they could not see because it was dark and the flooded river was at that point almost five miles wide.”

Still others faced a horrible choice: remain aboard the floating inferno, or jump into the river and risk being drowned by the panicked masses in the waters below. Making matters worse, many of the men didn’t know how to swim.

“When I came to my senses I found myself . . . surrounded by wreckage, and in the midst of smoke and fire,” an Ohio soldier recalled in a collection of survivor essays, “Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors,” published in 1892. “The agonizing shrieks and groans of the injured and dying were heart rending, and the stench of burning flesh was intolerable and beyond my power of description.”

“It was all confusion,” remembered one Michigan soldier. “Brave men rushed to and fro in the agony of fear, some uttering the most profane language and others commending their spirits to the Great Ruler of the Universe.”

“There were some killed in the explosion, lying in the bottom of the boat, being trampled upon, while some were crying and praying, many were cursing while others were singing,” recalled another Ohio soldier. “That sight I shall never forget; I often see it in my sleep, and wake with a start.”

The Sultana disaster killed an estimated 1,700 or more of the passengers — a death toll higher than caused by the sinking of the Titanic half a century later. While it remains the worst maritime catastrophe in U.S. history, the Sultana was relegated to brief mentions in the country’s newspapers, overshadowed by the end of the war and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln less than two weeks earlier. Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, had been tracked down by authorities and killed the day before the Sultana explosion. The Sultana story could not compete with headlines such as “Lee Surrenders!” “President Murdered!” and “Booth Killed!”

“It didn’t really get a lot of press coverage because of where and when it occurred and who the victims were. These were mainly enlisted men; they hadn’t made any mark on history,” said Jerry Potter, author of “The Sultana Tragedy: America’s Greatest Maritime Disaster.” “The nation had just finished four long, bloody years of civil war. Over 600,000 men had died. People were accustomed, unfortunately, to reading about Gettysburg and Antietam and Chickamauga and Shiloh. They were used to reading about death, and I think the country was just somewhat calloused toward it.”

Greed, incompetence, recklessness and bad luck all played a role.

The trouble started the moment the steamboat docked in Vicksburg. One of its boilers had sprung a leak on the way from New Orleans and needed repair. The boat’s captain, J. Cass Mason, brought in a mechanic who wanted to replace a ruptured seam. That job could take days and cost Mason time and money, so he insisted that the mechanic hastily patch the leaky boiler.

The government’s offer to pay $5 or more per man to transport Union POWs back north after the war meant big money for steamboat captains such as Mason. It also sowed the seeds of corruption, as boat captains commonly offered kickbacks or other bribes to Army officers willing to load their vessels with as many men as possible.

That was part of the reason the Sultana, built to hold about 375 passengers, was crammed with 2,400 — about six times its recommended capacity — as it began the journey to Cairo, Ill. Every corner of the boat was occupied by weary soldiers, so tightly sandwiched together that many could find no place to sleep and barely any place to stand. The decks of the 260-foot-long boat sagged and creaked under the load.

“It was corruption and gross negligence,” Potter said. “It was a horrible comedy of errors.”

Hours after the explosions, the Sultana sank to the bottom of the Mississippi. Bodies continued to surface downriver for months; many were never recovered. Mason, the boat’s captain, was among the casualties.

Despite claims of Confederate sabotage, a government inquiry determined that too little water in the boilers, coupled with the shoddy repairs and the strain of the heavy load, probably contributed to the disaster. There were investigations and military tribunals, but ultimately no one was held fully accountable for America’s worst maritime calamity.

For those who survived the Sultana explosion, through luck or resourcefulness or some combination of the two, the event shaped the rest of their lives.

“The war trumped all their previous travails,” Huffman wrote. “For those who were also former prisoners, captivity trumped the war. And for those who survived the Sultana, the disaster trumped everything.”

Some survivors slipped into alcoholism and depression. Others wrote about their experiences in newspaper and magazine articles, sometimes omitting parts of the narrative or embellishing their own heroism, but always desperately trying to make sure the tragedy was not forgotten. Many carried with them burns and other lasting physical injuries to accompany their psychological wounds.

Huffman said the story of two Indiana farm boys, Romulus Tolbert and John Maddox, illustrates how different men wrestled with the demons of war and of the Sultana.

They had fought side by side in the war, ended up in the same prison camp and wound up together on the doomed steamboat. After the disaster, back in the same home town, Tolbert embraced a quiet life of stability. He married, built a house with a picket fence, farmed the land and rarely spoke of the Sultana. Maddox remained restless. He suffered failed marriages and health problems, couldn’t hold down a job and seemed haunted by the past.

“How they dealt with it was very different,” Huffman said. “That wasn’t uncommon. Some people were just beaten down by these things; other people just became sort of stoic and endured it. There wasn’t any template.”

More than two decades after the disaster, survivors of the Sultana in different parts of the country began holding annual reunions around the anniversary of the catastrophe. Eventually, their numbers dwindled, until the last survivor died in 1936. By then, their children and grandchildren had grown up hearing the extraordinary tales of hardship, loss and survival.

“This is, and always has been, something that defines our family,” said Mary Beth Mason of Silver Spring. Her grandfather, William Carter Warner, joined the Union Army’s 9th Indiana Cavalry as a teenager, became a prisoner of war and survived the Sultana, managing to swim ashore after he was blown into the river.

Mason’s grandfather died before she was born, but she and her siblings grew up hearing his life story from her father. She still has a copy of the official survivor’s certificate her grandfather received in September 1888 from the Sultana Survivors Association.

“My grandfather could have died in Cahaba prison when he was 16,” Mason said. “He could have died on the Sultana, but he didn’t. . . . Of course, it’s important in my family. My father would have never been born. I would have never been born.”

Descendants of Sultana survivors have continued to meet in recent decades to remember a tragedy that the nation barely acknowledged at the time and that has been relegated to a footnote ever since.

This April, to mark the 150th anniversary of the disaster, they will gather in Marion, Ark., just across the Mississippi River from Memphis. They will board a boat and travel upstream to where the Sultana sank and lay a wreath on the river to honor those lost. They will visit the spot where the wreckage of the steamboat now lies under a field on the Arkansas side of the river.

“We’ve done a lot to keep the story and to spread the story,” said Norman Shaw of Knoxville, Tenn., who as founder of the Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends has been organizing gatherings since 1987. He expects 100 people or more to attend this year. “These fellows felt history forgot about them. . . . We’re following the wishes of the original survivors to keep the story alive.”

In the spring of 1865, the boys on the boat had wanted nothing more than to go home. Most never made it past Memphis. Today, many of them lie in the Memphis National Cemetery under simple white headstones engraved with the words “Unknown U.S. Soldier.”

But not all of the graves are anonymous.

One marker is etched with the name of John Clark Ely, the Ohio soldier who never saw his next Christmas.

Saturday 28 March 2015

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At least 9 die in Chile flood, 19 missing

Communities in Chile's northern desert region dug houses and cars out of the mud and worked to reopen roads Friday after floods pummeled several cities and left nine people dead. Nineteen people were also missing after the torrential rains in the Atacama Desert, the world's driest, said Interior Sub-secretary Mahmud Aleuy. "As we clear the roads and flooded zones, we may have a higher number of dead and missing," he Aleuy said. Communities in the desert region were struggling on Thursday to cope with a disaster that knocked out power and cut off roadways. Thunderstorms with torrential rains moved into the Atacama on Tuesday, causing the Copiapo river to overflow its banks. Fears of mudslides prompted authorities to evacuate thousands from their homes in “the worst rain disaster to fall on the north in 80 years”, said the deputy interior minister, Mahmud Aleuy. TV images showed brown muddy waters flooding the streets and reaching a hospital in Copiapo city. Some people living along the river had to be rescued by helicopter because roads were blocked by water and mud. TV footage showed several families waiting on the roofs of their homes, including a man who had punched a hole through his roof to save his toddler. Desperate family members of the victims took to Twitter pleading for help in finding their loved ones. The government declared a state of emergency, putting the region under military control, and President Michelle Bachelet flew to the area. “We’re living an extremely difficult situation,” she said. “The previous forecast was that there was a huge drought here, so the rains were not necessarily seen as a catastrophe. Foreseeing was really difficult because no one knew.” The heavy rains came after several days of high temperatures and a drought that stoked raging wildfires in Chile’s south-central regions. The fires have burned nearly 93,000 hectares in the 2014-2015 season, far above the annual average of 59,300 hectares over the previous five years. Earthquake-prone Chile is no stranger to the forces of nature. The national geological service Sernageomin said residents should be on alert due to increased activity at the Villarica volcano in the country’s south, which erupted on 3 March, forcing evacuations and disrupting air traffic. The storms prompted Chile’s state-run copper giant Codelco to suspend work due to blocked roads. The company said on Thursday it was reopening sites in the north, including some of the world’s largest copper mines. Saturday 28 March 2015

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French police recover remains of Germanwings 9525 crash victims

French police working to recover remains from the Germanwings crash site say so far they have recovered between 400 and 600 pieces of remains from the 150 people who died in Tuesday’s plane crash.

Speaking from the French Alps town of Seyne-les-Alpes, Col. Patrick Touron of the gendarme service said “we haven’t found a single body intact.”

He also said DNA samples have been taken from objects provided by the victims’ families — such as toothbrushes — that could help identify the victims.

Touron also said jewelry and other objects could help in the identification process.

Rescue workers examining the Germanwings air disaster crash site have found no intact bodies and up to 600 pieces of human remains, investigators have confirmed.

Families at the site are even having to go through the ordeal of providing DNA samples to experts based in a make-shift laboratory set up across two hotels in Barcelona, where the loved ones of the crash victims are staying.

Police have also confirmed that no intact bodies have been found at the French Alps crash zone as they seek to identify the 150 victims of the disaster who died.

In a bid to identify the victims, families are being asked by officials if they can recall what clothing their loved ones may have been wearing while on board the doomed flight.

They have been asked if their late family members may have had any distinctive features such as tattoos.

Experts have also been recovering DNA samples from household items of the victims for further examination.

'Daunting scene'

A team of 50 forensic workers face a daunting scene: a vast stretch of debris scattered over treacherous mountain ridges that can only be accessed with the help of climbing gear and a cadre of mountaineers.

The Germanwings A320, which French prosecutors suspect was deliberately sent into a crash by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, hit the mountain at 400 miles an hour and exploded on impact.

Four days into the search, “we have not found a single body intact,” chief forensic police investigator Col. Patrick Touron said in Seyne, about 5 miles away from the crash site.

The process of identifying remains from catastrophic events can take years. In New York City, investigators are still sorting through bone fragments and other human remains from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Nonetheless, French officials have vowed to do their best to help the families of the 150 people who died in Tuesday’s crash of the Barcelona-Düsseldorf flight.

“I assure you here that everything will be done to find the victims, identify them and return their bodies to their families,” French President François Hollande said Wednesday, speaking with his German and Spanish counterparts in Seyne during a ceremony.

In addition to Christian Driessens, the Belgian passenger, victims included 71 German citizens, 51 Spaniards and three Americans.

As of Friday, about 500 pieces of remains had been collected and ferried by helicopter to a base camp in Seyne, Col. Touron said. The search-and-recovery effort could take at least another 10 days, he said, adding that poor weather might slow down progress.

While the forensic squad meticulously combed the steep and slippery mountainside, French authorities started gathering DNA samples from relatives of the 144 passengers and six Germanwings crew members. As much as possible, French police are asking families to provide dental files from the victims, as well as toothbrushes or hairbrushes from which DNA samples can be extracted. Germany has supplied a special device to help French investigators read any biometric German passports that could be collected among the debris.

The signature Germanwings suit worn by cockpit crew may help investigators home in on the remains of Mr. Lubitz, the co-pilot, Mr. Touron said.

The police investigator said he expected French prosecutors would request extensive analysis of his remains—to determine whether he was on medication, for instance—but couldn't guarantee that it would be possible.

Plane crash recovery workers face treacherous terrain, high winds

The rescue workers battling to gather the pulverized pieces of Germanwings Flight 9525 and the remains of the 150 people on board must contend with high winds as well as treacherous terrain.

Winched down from helicopters on to the steep, icy slopes, where debris lies scattered across hundreds of meters, workers have had to be tied together in two-person teams.

One is there to carry out the investigation and recovery. The second is charged with ensuring their safety as they're buffeted by the weather.

Complicating matters, very few of the bodies have been found whole, Yves Naffrechoux, captain of rescue operations, told CNN on Friday.

And winds have picked up, making it difficult for helicopters to ferry the workers to the site in the French Alps in the first place, he said.

Authorities have deployed 45 Alpine policemen to help forensics officers -- not accustomed to working in mountain ravines -- recover the bodies safely, Naffrechoux said.

His team is based out of Seyne-les-Alpes, a normally sleepy Alpine village that since Tuesday's crash has been transformed into a hub for the recovery operation.

The leaders of Germany, France and Spain have visited. The families of the victims have laid flowers and prayed at a nearby memorial. Journalists have flocked to the spot as they report the latest developments.

Meanwhile, the rescue workers have continued their hazardous mission.

Workers hope to build access road

The recovery process has been difficult as there are many pieces and the weather has been unhelpful, Naffrechoux said.

Before anything could be recovered, the position of the bodies and debris had to be mapped. Human remains must be treated with due respect despite the tricky conditions.

The workers are now removing more bodies from the site, Naffrechoux said. The priority remains to find all the bodies and the elusive second "black box," the plane's flight data recorder, he said.

Investigators hope, once found, it could yield more clues into what happened on the flight deck of the Germanwings plane before it slammed into the mountainside at about 430 miles per hour. Already, the Marseille prosecutor, Brice Robin, has revealed that cockpit audio indicated that German co-pilot Andreas Lubitz "wanted to destroy the aircraft."

The recovery teams are trying to construct a road to access the site more quickly and aid the transportation of bodies to a DNA testing center where they are kept in refrigerated units, said Naffrechoux.

It's hoped the process will take 10 to 15 days, depending on weather, he said.

'Complicated process'

Testimonials posted by France's Interior Ministry from rescue and recovery workers at the scene also give an insight into the tough conditions at the remote crash site.

One, named as Commander Emmanuel G., of the Criminal Research Institute from the National Gendarmerie, said it was a "really complicated" process.

"We are working in two-person teams, whether it's alongside (police) mountain guides, the local gendarmes or the alpine firemen and emergency teams," he said. "We do not know how to continue in this situation otherwise, we really need them to ensure our security at all times."

"It's the first time police technicians and gendarmes are working together," an unnamed technician in one of those two-person teams is quoted as saying.

"We have total trust in each other. He's holding my life in his hands."

Saturday 29 March 2015

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10 die in stampede during Hindu religious gathering in Narayanganj

At least 10 people were killed and dozens more injured on Friday in a stampede during a Hindu religious gathering in Bangladesh, police said. The accident took place in Langalbandh, a Hindu pilgrimage spot on the banks of the Brahmaputra river, 12 miles southeast of capital Dhaka, according to police. The cause of the stampede was not immediately clear.

The annual religious bathing ritual in Bangladesh’s Narayanganj district draws thousands of Hindu devotees from Bangladesh and also neighboring India and Nepal.

At least 20 others were injured in the incident on Old Brahmaputra River bank at Langalbandh on Friday.

Witnesses say a rumour that a bailey bridge was collapsing triggered the stampede while many blamed mismanagement.

Police have denied the allegations.

Police say the bodies will be handed to families without post-mortem examinations.

The district administration announced Tk 25,000 to families of each victim for funeral.

President Md Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have mourned the casualties.

Langalbandh, 20 km southeast of Dhaka, is a Hindu holy site that hosts an annual ritual bath where pilgrims from home and abroad take part. The ritual’s origin is unclear.

An estimated 1.5 million devotees thronged Langalbandh on Friday.

Although the local administration prepared 16 quays, most devotees raced to the ancient Rajghat.

Local Union Parishad member Abdul Quadir said devotees had mostly thronged the Rajghat, Annapurna and Gandhi quays.

“The street is narrow but the bridge is narrower. People suddenly started running in a frenzy leading to the deaths”

What triggered the rumour is unclear.

Many blamed police inaction for the incident while others say lack of ambulances led to a rise in the toll.

Narayanganj Deputy Commissioner Anisur Rahman Mian blamed overcrowding for the stampede.

A senior police official in the district said that more police had been sent to the festival site after the accident and the bathing ritual had resumed after the stampede had been controlled.

Saturday 28 March 2015

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Germanwings crash: DNA experts work to identify victims

Jewelry and pieces of clothing were being removed from Germanwings crash victims on Friday and helicoptered out, police said Friday, as forensics teams ramped up DNA testing.

The grim task of recovering and identifying the 150 bodies intensified after relatives provided DNA samples in emergency tents set up near the crash site in a remote corner of the French Alps. The Germanwings flight smashed into the ground at 430 mph on Tuesday, pulverizing the wreckage.

"Intense efforts continue today to recover bodies and evidence for identification of victims," French police spokesman Lt. Col. Xavier Vielenc told reporters at a staging site near the town of Seyne-Sur-Alpes. "Investigators are bringing back anything that can help to identify victims such as jewelry, pieces of clothing."

He said four helicopters were flying 15 investigators to the mountainside where the Airbus A320 crashed, with each investigator was accompanied by police officer.

"Each team of two is dropped down into the crash site— like a buddy system in diving," Vielenc explained. "It is an 80 meter [260 feet] drop to the crash site by winch from the helicopter."

Ten of the 15 investigators are dedicated to DNA analysis, he said. Six more workers are responsible for transferring bodies and evidence back to the Post Command Operations site where tents have been erected for recovery teams and counselors.

Victims' relatives — who on Thursday attended a memorial service and visited the area of the crash — "gave DNA in these tents last night," he said.

Thirty forensic experts from the national French police service, IRCGN, are working in the tents, Vielenc added. Interpol has said its experts are assisting.

In the town of Le Vernet, a shrine set up by residents in memory of the victims was visited by a young Spanish couple who laid single flowers and a bouquet offered by officials from the Spanish embassy.

The mayor, Francois Baliquette, said the town "belonged" to the victims' families and that 19 of them had decided to stay on in the area after Thursday's visit.

"They can come when they like," he said. "We will accept them when they want. They are friends, sisters, mothers. They need to come here. They ask to come here. No problem."

Saturday 28 March 2015

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Friday, 27 March 2015

Germanwings crash: why don't we know exactly yet who was on board Flight 9525?

More than 48 hours after the Germanwings flight crashed in the Alps, politicians and the airlines still seem unsure who was on the plane.

The authorities initially announced that the crash had claimed the lives of 150 people, 144 passengers, four crew and two pilots. But the nationalities of those on board are unknown.

The passenger manifest has remained secret, and as passengers on board the flight only needed to show their passport - no record appears to have been taken as they left Barcelona airport.

Countries who signed up to the Schengen agreement have removed internal borders, allowing travellers to "freely circulate without being subjected to border checks", according to the EU.

Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, was unable to say how many Britons were involved, saying on Tuesday that there were three "or more" on board.

"We cannot rule out the possibility that there are further British people involved," he said.

"The level of information on the flight manifest doesn't allow us to rule out that possibility until we've completed some further checks."

Germanwings, meanwhile, repeated on Wednesday that there was only one Briton among the dead.

The number of Spaniards on board also varied wildly - on Tuesday night the authorities said there were 45 onboard, but Germanwings said on Wednesday morning that there were 35.

By noon on Wednesday the figure had changed again. "Forty-nine Spanish victims have been identified" so far said Francisco Martinez, Spain's junior security minister. But he added that it was a provisional figure.

According to the Iranian media there were two Iranian sports journalists on board and there is speculation there may also be Argentinian victims.

Philip Baum, an aviation security expert, said that residents of Schengen countries could board flights using only national identity cards rather than passports, which could have added to the uncertainty.

"In the UK you can't do that because we haven't got a national ID card system, but within the Shengen countries people can use national ID cards. That, however, may be an indicator not of nationality but simply of residency rights, and that may mean it takes longer to work out where each passenger is actually from."

The lack of a clear record appears to suggest that in the event of a suspected terror attack, the airlines have no immediate way of checking whether citizens from any countries deemed to be likely potential sources of terrorism are on board. It also appears to make things harder from a consular point of view: embassies need to know how many citizens from their countries were on board in order to anticipate how much assistance to provide for families of the bereaved.

A German government source admitted that because of Europe's border protocols, under which no record of passports and ID cards is required, there is no way to know precisely the nationalities of who was on board.

He explained that the passenger list has not been released is because not all the families have been informed. This is being hampered because they are struggling to work out the nationalities of those on board.

Spain said some passengers may have dual nationality, confusing the issue further.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, European leaders discussed whether to reintroduce identity checks within the EU's free travel zone. Spain, France and Germany in particular were pushing for curbs on passport-free travel

Thursday 26 March 2015

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Flight 4U 9525: specialists will begin the complex process of identifying the bodies of the victims

Every few hours today an ambulance or a refrigerated lorry left the Alpine field which has become the ad hoc marshalling yard for the vast operation to reach the wreckage of flight 4U 9525. Inside each vehicle, carefully concealed under layers of polythene wrapping, were some of the remains of the 150 people who perished on board.

The first bodies recovered from the site of the Germanwings crash began to be transferred some 48 hours after the disaster by the fleets of helicopters that now shuttle in a constant clatter between the temporary airfield in this ski resort and the isolated mountain valley where the Airbus A320 disintegrated.

But these sombre journeys, carried out under a blue light escort, are only the beginning of the grim process of identifying the passengers - school children, businessmen, mothers and fathers - whose bodies could not have survived the appalling impact of the crash intact.

Emergency workers and witnesses have spoken of the unspeakable sight that greeted them as they walked through the ravine where much of the wreckage is concentrated. One mountain guide told The Independent: “It is difficult to say but there are not whole bodies. There are only parts and they are small, the size of a laptop computer. It is beyond distressing to see what has been done to these fellow human beings.”

RRecovery teams are facing the dauntingly grim task of scouring an area spanning thousands of metres on tough mountain terrain in the task to find body parts of crash victims from the downed Germanwings flight.

In a chilling press conference outlining the nature of the flight’s last moments, French authorities detailed the difficulty in identifying victims and collecting body parts on the mountain morgue.

Considering the nature of the impact and the state of the bodies, it is likely to take weeks to account for all the parts.

“Imagine 150 victims in an area of over two hectares, between 1600 and 2000 metres,” said Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin.

The process is made easier by flags placed on the slope to mark locations of victims but the recovery is expected to last until the end of next week as teams face the even tougher task retrieving, identifying and delivering the bodies safely to ground.

“There were no more whole bodies, Fabrice Rouve, who works with the High Mountain division of the gendarmes told the New York Times.

The crash site is inaccessible on foot and by road and helicopters are unable to land on the slopes because there is nowhere flat enough to make a safe landing.

Recovery teams must be lowered down to the area by a cable and inexperienced officials must be accompanied by experienced rescuers to ensure they don’t slide down the slope.

Mr Robin detailed the “evacuation” process, where teams collect parts and send them back via helicopter.

“We put them on body bags in a stretcher and then they are put down in a nearby unit where the post mortem is carried out.

“Then we continue with the DNA identification.

“This is why these operations will take quite a long time.”

The technique is favoured by teams “due to the very difficult mountain terrain”.

It is from this starting point that the French authorities, helped by their German and Spanish opposites, must complete what is the first priority in the aftermath of the disaster - that of restoring to the dead their dignity and restoring their remains to those they have left behind.

In order to deal with this immense task, a small army of specialists has been deployed to the crash site and the surrounding areas to use the full battery of forensic, scientific and anthropological tools available to identify each of the dead.

They include forensic dentists, medical anthropologists and DNA specialists as well as several dozen dedicated search and recovery workers deployed to the isolated and treacherous crash site to label and catalogue each human fragment. Among them is a specialist Incident Response Team deployed by Interpol to co-ordinate what is in effect an international disaster with victims from around the world.

Brice Robin, the state prosecutor based in Marseille who is in charge of the French investigation, said: “The identification procedure is going to last several weeks. We are faced with 150 bodies which have undergone multiple trauma.”

The solution to this heartrending jigsaw lies in the bringing together of several sources of evidence, ranging from the pre-existing medical and personal records of the passengers to comparisons with the DNA of relatives, to the clues offered by a single bone.

Georges Leonetti, head of the medico-legal service in Marseille, said: “There is little chance that we will recover complete bodies. In order to achieve identification we therefore have to resort to the clues provided when people were still alive.”

Teams from Spain and Germany have already begun compiling medical dossiers on each of the victims, seeking identifying details which can range from dental records to operation scars to descriptions of appearance. DNA swabs have been taken from family members and similar work will be carried out in each of the countries affected by the disaster, including Britain.

Mr Leonetti said: “These are all details which allow us to compare the remains one against the other to arrive at an eventual identification.”

Among the most delicate work going on at the crash site in the Vallée de la Blanche and in laboratories across the south of France will be that of the forensic anthropologists who must comb the crash site for clues that tell the stories of the departed.

One expert likened the work to that of archaeologists as they sift a site, albeit one of the most recent and overwhelming trauma. A recovery worker at Seyne-les-Alpes said: “A single bone can tell you the sex or the size of an individual. Each clue must be recovered and entered into the process. It is careful, painstaking work.”

It is also work which, according to the worker, will potentially endure for months. He added: “It is our duty to give back their loved ones to the families of those who died, no matter how difficult that can be.”

Families of the victims are anxious to retrieve their loved ones bodies but “until the full DNA is carried out and finalised it’s only at that point I can give the bodies back,” said Mr Robin.

“But the DNA takes a while.”

Friday 27 March 2015

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Flight 4U 9525: First bodies recovered, challenges weigh heavily on recovery efforts

This mountain village was a remote place, a haven for holiday hikers and seasoned rock climbers, until this week, when it became a place of incomprehensible tragedy for the families of the passengers on a routine German flight.

The crash of the Airbus A320 jet on a snow-sprinkled range near here on Tuesday turned the deep ravines into a mountain morgue and the village into a place of mourning. It also transformed it into a gathering place, as would-be rescuers, investigators, cabinet members on Tuesday, and the leaders of France, Germany and Spain on Wednesday, all converged here in the wake of the Germanwings flight’s inexplicable descent into a mountainside.

As the names of the dead began to trickle out — 150, all told, from at least 15 countries — and as investigators sought to solve the mystery of why the flight went down, residents here also prepared to receive the victims’ families. Hundreds of the relatives are expected to descend on the valley, said Francis Hermitte, the mayor.

The magnitude of the task of recovering the bodies was sinking in on Wednesday as seven helicopters roared nonstop over this village, up to the slate and limestone escarpment strewn with pieces of wreckage. It was becoming clear that both determining the cause of the crash and accounting for the human toll would probably be a lengthy mission. It is likely to take more than two weeks to bring the wreckage and body parts off the mountain, and identifying the 150 people who died will take much longer, rescue personnel said.

The crash site is inaccessible by road or foot, and even helicopters cannot land because there is nowhere flat enough. Rescuers, doctors and investigators must be lowered onto the mountainside by cables.

Their task then is to preserve the debris in packages that must be hauled up to the hovering helicopters, said Fabrice Rouve, 46, an experienced rescue worker and former soldier who now works with the High Mountain division of the gendarmes.

All non-Alpine-trained officials at the scene — doctors, investigators and airplane engineers — must be accompanied by Alpine rescuers to ensure that they do not slip and tumble down the mountain. There are worries, as well, that intruders would find a way to reach the crash site and disturb the debris, which is essential to the investigation, said Mr. Rouve, so five gendarmes were being left overnight to guard the site.

Mr. Rouve, like others who had flown up to the mountain, was struck, if not shaken, by the sheer destruction he saw. Xavier Roy, the coordinator for emergency personnel, said after flying over the site that he was surprised by the absence of big pieces of wreckage, an engine or a large piece of the fuselage, typically visible after a crash.

“Here, we are not seeing anything except bits and pieces,” Mr. Roy said. “The largest piece we have seen so far is the equivalent of a car door.” He said that the initial rescue workers who reached the scene on Tuesday had scoured the area, looking for movement or sounds from any potential survivors, but that they had not heard or seen anything to suggest that anyone might have lived through the crash.

n story Leaders of the three countries most affected by the tragedy — President François Hollande of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain — went to the mountain Wednesday afternoon to thank emergency medical workers and pay homage to the dead.

Mr. Hollande was the only one of the three who did not lose fellow citizens, and he spoke in a heartfelt tone, as if reassuring a family member, and called the leaders by their first names. He later promised that France would do everything it could to help, from investigating to supporting the families of the victims who were expected to come to this hamlet in the next few days. “We must understand what happened; we owe it to the families and to the countries that are impacted by this tragedy,” he said.

Ms. Merkel and Mr. Rajoy thanked Mr. Hollande, but Ms. Merkel, who lost 72 of her citizens in the crash and has sometimes seemed at odds with the French president over policy, was moved by the French outpouring. “Dear François, I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you in the name of millions of Germans who appreciate this German-Franco friendship,” she said.

The plane touched families from at least 15 countries, but the biggest shares were from Spain, which lost 45 citizens, and from Germany. Among those who died were a newlywed couple hoping to settle in Düsseldorf, the flight’s destination; the opera singers Oleg Bryjak, a bass baritone, and Maria Radner, a contralto; the wife of a Catalan politician; an Australian hoping to start a teaching career in France, and a mother with her 7-month-old baby. There were 16 high school students and two of their teachers, returning to Germany after a week at an exchange program outside of Barcelona, where the flight took off.

The flight was in so many ways a reflection of Europe today, with the majority of those on board making a short hop from one European Union country to another, mixed with a smattering of farther-flung visitors.

On Wednesday, as early-morning fog gave way to a cold overcast day, emergency workers were placing flags to mark the locations of the victims.

Mr. Rouve said that in more than 14 years on the job, he had dug people out of avalanches, rescued stranded rock climbers and recovered the bodies of fallen climbers. But he said the crash of the Germanwings flight was a different order of destruction. “All of my colleagues who are experts, we all agreed, we had never seen anything like this,” he said. “First we saw just some tendrils of smoke from the wreckage, and it’s hard to imagine for a big aircraft like this, but there was nothing left,” he added.

Mr. Rouve said that what was most distressing to him was the state of the victims’ remains.

“There were no more whole bodies,” he said, although he could not be sure he had seen the entire site because the wreckage was scattered over a large area.

Seynes-les-Alpes, a village of 1,400 in a valley a three-hour drive northwest of Nice, found itself overrun. The atmosphere was somber, with natives especially distressed that their village had been turned into a place of such tragedy. Many spontaneously offered to lend a hand in any way they could, as if wanting to make amends for the destruction in what almost all locals call “our mountains.”

While the authorities were making plans to help hundreds of families travel to the village, residents and local hoteliers offered families places to stay for free, Mayor Hermitte said.

Villagers set up a temporary chapel in a school gymnasium for the families to pray and be alone, and educators at the local high school offered to act as translators for the families.

René Vaugeois, who retired here more than 10 years ago and has the ruddy look of an enthusiastic hiker, said that he felt sad that the mountain environment which had brought him so much happiness was now enveloped in mourning. “We are very moved; those are our mountains, we hike there every summer and we’ve done every peak here,” he said. Asked whether he would take victims’ families into his home he did not hesitate: “I would do it.”

Friday 27 March 2015

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Thursday, 26 March 2015

At least 14 Vietnam workers killed in scaffolding collapse

At least 14 workers have been killed by collapsing scaffolding in Vietnam's Ha Tinh province, state media report.

About 30 other injured people were taken to hospital after the accident on a building site in the Vung Ang economic zone late on Wednesday.

Rescue workers have been searching the rubble for bodies and in case people were trapped.

The workers, all Vietnamese, were reportedly working on a port seawall project at an industrial complex.

The complex is owned by Taiwanese group Formosa Plastics and the workers had been subcontracted by a branch of South Korea's Samsung group, reports said.

One injured man said the scaffolding had started shaking an hour after they began work, and that many people had panicked and tried to escape.

"After 10 more minutes, the scaffolding which was about 20m (65 feet) high, suddenly collapsed. I quickly grabbed an iron bar but fell free," Dan Ninh Dan told the Associated Press. He was being treated in hospital for an injured hip.

"People were screaming, calling for help from the rubble," he said. "I was very lucky to survive."

A spokesman for the zone, Pham Tran De, said there had been thousands of people on the building site at the time "so the number of workers in distress is not yet accurately calculated".

"Authorities are actively removing the rubble to rescue the trapped workers," he said.

The Vung Ang zone was the scene of violent anti-Chinese protests last year amid heightened tensions over territorial disputes between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea.

Thursday 26 March 2015

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Germanwings plane crash: Police guard site overnight to protect victims' bodies from wolves

Five police officers stayed overnight amid the debris at the Germanwings crash site to protect it from souvenir hunters, journalists and wolves.

Authorities have strengthened the security cordon at the scene in the French Alps, which is near a popular ski resort and mountain roads, L'Express reported.

There are fears that curious members of the public and press may disturb the investigation and that two wolf packs known to live in the area could be attracted to victims’ bodies.

“The aircraft was pulverised,” one rescue worker said last night. “Even the bodies are unrecognisable.”

Hundreds of police and dozens of helicopters descended on the mountains at first light today for a second day of work to recover passengers and debris.

Rescue workers have begun extracting bodies from the French Alps crash site of doomed Germanwings Airbus A320, it has been revealed.

Helicopters operating around the crash zone have begun the process of airlifting the remains of the 150 victims involved in the air disaster - in which there were no survivors.

The mountainous crash site - based at 1,500 metres altitude - can only be reached by helicopter, or a significant hike.

The body retrieval operation began this afternoon, but has since been called off for the night, according to a source close to the scene.

Flight 4U9525 was less than an hour from its destination of Dusseldorf on its journey from Barcelona when it unexpectedly went into a descent for up to 18 minutes yesterday morning.

The pilots did not send out a distress call and had lost radio contact with their control centre at around 10.50am local time (9.50am GMT), France's aviation authority said.

Thursday 26 March 2015

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80 Pct of bodies found in Mexico illegal graves since '06 still unidentified

Roughly 80 percent of the 601 bodies found in 174 clandestine graves in Mexico between Dec. 1, 2006, and Feb. 28, 2015, have not yet been identified, according to a report by the federal Attorney General's Office.

The report, which Mexico City daily El Universal obtained under the country's transparency law, states that of the 601 bodies found, 342 have been identified by their gender: 302 men and 40 women. The others have the status of "not assessable, in process and/or indeterminate."

Not all cases are documented in the report because in some states there is a lack of coordination with the top prosecutor's office, the AG's office said.

A total of 207 bodies were found in 2011, during former President Felipe Calderon's Dec. 1, 2006, to Nov. 30, 2012, tenure, or more than a third of the corpses found in the illegal burial sites.

The graves were found in 16 of Mexico's 32 federal entities - 31 states and the Federal District (Mexico City); 93 of them, containing 207 bodies, were discovered in 2013 and 2014, the first two years of current President Enrique Peña Nieto's six-year term.

Guerrero, in southwestern Mexico, was the state with the largest number of clandestine graves and bodies found - 79 and 199, respectively. It accounted for 45.5 percent of all the illegal burial sites and 33.1 percent of all of the bodies discovered.

Those numbers include 38 clandestine graves containing 87 bodies that were found in the municipality of Iguala, Guerrero, between October 2014 and January of this year.

Iguala is the city where 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Normal School, a teacher's college, went missing on Sept. 26, 2014.

Corrupt municipal cops acting on the orders of a corrupt mayor who had connections with the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel handed over the students to the cartel's gunmen, who killed the young people and burned their bodies at a dump, according to the official account.

The students' families reject that version of events and are demanding to know why soldiers of the Mexican army's Iguala-based 27th Infantry Battalion who witnessed the police attack did not intervene.

A total of 75 bodies were found in the western state of Jalisco, which ranked second on the list with 37 clandestine graves.

Authorities discovered 15 clandestine graves and 125 bodies in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas dating back to 2007, although the vast majority (120) were located in 2011 in the municipality of San Fernando, the scene of a massacre of migrants attributed to the Los Zetas drug cartel.

A total of 53 bodies were found in seven illegal graves in the northwestern state of Durango, while the same number of corpses were found in two clandestine graves in the northern state of Chihuahua.

More than 22,000 people have gone missing over the past eight years in Mexico, with nearly 50 percent of the cases being registered between 2012 and 2014.

Mexico has been racked by turf battles among powerful drug gangs during that period, while Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2015 that "Mexico's security forces have participated in widespread enforced disappearances since former President Calderon (2006-2012) launched a 'war on drugs'" shortly after taking office.

"Members of all security forces continue to carry out disappearances during the Peña Nieto administration, in some cases, collaborating directly with criminal groups," the New York-based rights watchdog said in the report, released in late January.

Thursday 26 March 2015

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Families mark 25th anniversary of club fire that killed 87

Family members and friends of victims gathered at a vigil Wednesday night to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a social club fire that killed almost 90 people. At the time, it was the biggest mass murder in U.S. history.

On March 25, 1990, a Cuban refugee named Julio Gonzalez tried to win back the woman who had spurned him.

Gonzalez entered the Happy Land social club in the Bronx, which was humming with people -- mostly immigrants -- partying and dancing. His former live-in girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano, was checking coats, and they had a virulent argument. Gonzalez was thrown out.

In a rage, he returned just after 3 a.m., splashing gasoline on Happy Land's only guest exit and lighting two matches. Then he pulled down the metal front gate.

Within minutes, 87 people were dead.

On the day after the fire, as firefighters carried out the bodies, an icy drizzle descended on shocked relatives rushing to find out if their loved ones might be among the dead.

On Wednesday evening, again under a chilly drizzle, about 100 people crowded around the granite memorial at the site of the club, their prayers in Spanish ringing into the night.

They were joined by firefighters and police officers whose departments had responded to the blaze.

Earlier, during a Roman Catholic Mass at a nearby church, family members stood at the altar, each reading aloud the names of those who perished.

The fire was the worst in New York City since 146 workers died in a blaze at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in what is today's Greenwich Village. They were killed exactly 79 years earlier on March 25, 1911.

That spring night in 1990, people were smothered by black smoke or fatally burned. It happened so quickly that some appeared like frozen figures from Pompeii.

A few still had drinks in their hands. Some had torn off their party clothes, engulfed by flames. Others died hugging or holding hands. Bodies were piled up on Happy Land's dance floor in the darkness, their faces covered with soot.

Jaffrey Gotay does not treasure memories of her father. She has none, because she was only 3 when he died, and her mother was pregnant with her sister.

"A lot of it is unknown, it's missing out, not really knowing what could have been," said Gotay, whose family buried her father, Denny Alvarez, in Trujillo, a town in Honduras where others killed in the fire also are buried.

"You don't really remember, and that sucks," she said, tears streaming down her face.

The sisters grew up writing letters to their absent dad each year on Father's Day, placing them near his picture.

Gotay brought along her 17-month-old daughter, whom she'll eventually tell how her grandfather died.

In 1990, Happy Land drew a noisy, happy crowd of mostly young people. The club had been ordered closed for fire hazards -- no sprinklers or emergency exits -- but continued to operate illegally.

About two-thirds of the victims were part of a Bronx community of so-called Garifunas -- Hondurans descended from proud black natives of the Caribbean exiled by British colonizers more than two centuries ago.

In recent years, many Garifunas have fled a repressive Honduran regime and settled in New York.

That fateful weekend, they were enjoying their go-to club, speaking their own language and dancing to their drum-driven Garifuna music.

Gonzalez, now 60, sits behind bars for life in an upstate New York prison. He was convicted of 174 counts of murder -- two for each victim on charges of depraved indifference and felony murder.

A refugee from Fidel Castro's Cuba, he arrived in New York in the Mariel boatlift of 1980. A decade later, he was working in a warehouse but lost his job six weeks before the fire, police said.

Earlier this month, Gonzalez was denied parole.

Thursday 26 March 2015

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More MH17 remains recovered in Ukraine, transported to the Netherlands for identification

Dutch investigators have found more remains of victims of flight MH17 in Ukraine. A team of the Ministry of Defense and police officers recovered remains on Tuesday and Wednesday in Hrabovo in eastern Ukraine. The remains have been transferred to Kharkov. According to the Ministry of Security and Justice Wednesday, additional personal belongings have been secured.

The remains are due to arrive at Eindhoven Air Base on Saturday. A ceremony will be held as with previous arrivals of MH17 victims.

The investigating team visited an area northwest of Petropavlivka on Wednesday. Dutch investigators could not access this area previously due to the ongoing security situation. However, the mayor of Petropavlivka gave permission to secure wreckage of the plane. The Dutch have collected the wreckage and transported this evidence to Kharkov.

The Malaysia Airlines MH17 crashed in eastern Ukraine on July 17 last year. All 298 passengers were killed, including 196 Dutch nationals. So far, 296 victims of the accident have been identified.

Translated from Dutch

Thursday 26 March 2015

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South Sudan munitions explosion kills 7

A blast at a munitions depot in the South Sudan’s Unity State has killed seven people and injured a child, Doctors Without Borders says.

The incident occurred on Thursday, when the stockpile of unexploded armaments, leftover from battles between government forces and opposition militants last year, exploded in a container located in the opposition-held town of Thar Jath.

Doctors Without Borders added that the container likely exploded after local residents set ablaze dry grass nearby in a bid to clear the land for farming.

South Sudan plunged into chaos in December 2013, when fighting erupted between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and the defectors, led by his former deputy, Riek Machar, around the capital, Juba.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the start of the conflict, while 1.5 million have been displaced and 2.5 million more are reported to be in dire need of food aid in South Sudan, which declared its independence from Sudan in 2011.

Thursday 26 March 2015

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Nine missing in boat sinking off northern Morocco coast

Nine people are still missing after a fishing boat sank on Tuesday in rough waters off northern Moroccan's coast, local authorities said.

Naval patrol and Gendarmerie rescue teams stopped the search operation at 2 pm GMT due to bad weather, it said, adding that five have been rescued so far.

Spanish rescue units helped in the rescue operation which took place in an area of 25 nautical miles in from the El Jebha coast in the Mediteranian.

Thursday 26 March 2015

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7 killed in train-truck collision during heavy rain in Thailand

A passenger train collided with a pickup truck in heavy rain in northern Thailand on Tuesday, killing seven construction workers in the truck and seriously injuring another, police said.

The train, bound for Bangkok, crashed into the truck at an unguarded crossing in Saraphi district shortly after departing from Chiang Mai, police Lt. Colonel Kumkaew Suyati said. He said the heavy downpour could have prevented the truck driver from seeing the oncoming train while crossing the tracks.

Kumkaew said five men and two women in the pickup truck were immediately killed and another man was seriously injured. All were members of the ethnic Shan minority, he said.

Construction jobs in Thailand are commonly filled by migrant workers or ethnic minorities.

Kumkaew said the train was not damaged and was able to continue its trip after a brief stop.

Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city and a popular tourist destination.

Thursday 26 March 2015§ion=international

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Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Khairpur bus crash leaves 13 dead and 20 injured

At least thirteen people were killed and 20 others injured when a bus collided with a truck in southern Pakistan on Wednesday morning, Dunya News reported.

The accident happened on Mehran Highway near Khairpur district, 450 kilometres (300 miles) north of Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh province.

Rescue teams arrived at the scene and shifted the bodies and injured to Gambat Institute of Medical Sciences and other hospitals in Khairpur.

As per initial details, the speeding truck loaded with fruits lost control and rammed into a bus coming from opposite direction.

Deputy Commissioner Munawar Ali Mithani reported that the incident occurred due to over-speeding. Further investigation is underway.

Pakistan has an appalling record of fatal traffic accidents due to poor roads, badly maintained vehicles and reckless driving. Crashes killing dozens of people are not uncommon.

The recovery equipment available to Pakistani emergency services is often basic, and when crashes happen away from major towns, rescue efforts can take some time, reducing injured passengers chances of survival.

In November 2014, more than 50 people were killed when a bus collided head-on with the truck near Khairpur district. The bus was carrying passengers from northwestern Swat valley to Karachi.

In April last year, a bus smashed into a tractor-trailer in a high-speed collision in Sindh, killing 42 people, while in March a horrific crash between two buses and a petrol tanker left 35 dead, with many burned alive when the fuel ignited.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

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Flight 4U 9525: Recovery effort under way in French Alps

At first light on Wednesday, rescue teams restarted their recovery mission searching for the victims of the air crash that shocked the whole of Europe the day before. Nearly 500 people, among them gendarmes, fire crews, members of the armed forces and technical personnel are all in the remote are of the French Alps where flight GWI9525, from the low-cost airline Germanwings, crashed.

The flight was carrying 144 passengers – 67 Germans and 45 people with Spanish surnames – and six crew members. None of them survived the impact. The causes of the accident are still unknown, although the recovery of one of the flight’s black boxes on Tuesday will prove key to determining what happened.

The movement of emergency vehicles was intensified from 7am onwards, as soon as the sun came up in Seyne-les-Alpes, which is just a few kilometers from the crash site and where the emergency crews are working.

A spokesperson for the French Interior Ministry, Pierre-Henry Brandet, announced that the ground was being prepared for helicopter flights to restart, news agency Efe reported.

A column of gendarmes headed to the zone on foot, after having to suspend their recovery work on Tuesday due to the snowy conditions. The authorities are trying to create a path to the area where the remains of the Airbus A320 are scattered. The zone was being guarded on Tuesday night by five gendarmes.

During the night the area saw heavy snow, and there are concerns that the weather conditions today will not favor rescue work. While the clouds are very high, helping the helicopters, there is a chance of rain and windy conditions during the day, according to meteorological services.

“It will take days to recover the victims,” explained police officical Jean-Paul Bloy. Spain is due to send six police officers and civil guards to the site to assist with the identification of the victims.

wednesday 25 March 2015

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Flight 4U9525 recovery effort resumes, rescuers struggle to recover bodies in Germanwings French Alps crash

The arduous search for the 150 victims of the worst aviation disaster on French soil in decades was set to resume at dawn on Wednesday, as European leaders visit the site of the tragedy to pay their respects.

Germanwings budget flight 4U9525, carrying 144 passengers including 16 German teenagers returning home from a school trip, plunged for eight minutes before hitting the side of a mountain in the French Alps Tuesday with no survivors.

There was no response to desperate attempts by air traffic controllers to hail the pilots.

The accident's cause remains a mystery but authorities have recovered a black box from the Airbus A320 at the crash site, where debris was believed to be scattered over four acres of remote and inaccessible mountainous terrain, hampering rescue efforts.

More than 300 policemen and 380 firefighters have been mobilized. Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Marc Menichini said a squad of 30 mountain rescue police would resume attempts to reach the crash site by helicopter at dawn Wednesday, while a further 65 police were seeking access on foot. Five investigators had spent the night at the site.

It would take "at least a week" to search the remote site, he said, and "at least several days" to repatriate the bodies.

Video images from a government helicopter on Tuesday showed a desolate snow-flecked moonscape, with steep ravines covered in scree. Debris was strewn across the mountainside, pieces of twisted metal smashed into tiny bits.

The plane was "totally destroyed", a local MP who flew over the site said, describing the scene as "horrendous".

"The biggest body parts we identified are not bigger than a briefcase," one investigator said.

Christophe Castaner, a Socialist party MP in France, was one of the first to fly over the barren high altitude crash site and described a scene of horror.

“It’s a sharp ridge and steep slope that is difficult to access."

He told BFMTV that they flew over the crash site twice before they realised that small white patches were not snow, but remnants of the plane.

Jean-Louis Bietrix, a mountain guide who accompanied the first emergency services up the mountain, said there was nothing left of the plane.

“There’s debris, but you have to look closely to see things. It’s like the plane has totally disappeared,” he said.

A crisis cell has been set up in the area between Barcelonnette and Digne-les-Bains along with an emergency flight control centre to coordinate chopper flights to the crash site.

French President Francois Hollande, his German counterpart Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy were expected to reach the scene around 2:00 pm (1300 GMT).

Bernard Cazeneuve, the interior minister, said the black box had been sent to the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA), the French air accident investigation authority, for “immediate examination”.

He added that the crash zone had been secured and that a criminal investigation team would arrive to collect evidence on Wednesday.

The French prime minister, Manuel Valls, said a helicopter crew landed near the crash site on Tuesday and found no survivors. Aerial photos showed the plane was, in the words of one official, “pulverised”. The largest piece of wreckage was little more than the size of a small car.

As the CVR was being analysed, Pierre-Henri Brandet, a spokesman for the French interior ministry in Seyne-les-Alpes, announced the suspension of the retrieval effort over Tuesday night including the search for a second black box on the isolated, rocky site.

Activities were resuming on Wednesday morning. Agence France-Presse, the French-based news agency, said more than 300 police officers and 380 firefighters had joined the operations.

Mountain rescue police were also on the scene, while five investigators had spent the night at the site.

The 144 passengers were mainly German and Spanish.

The high school in the small German town of Haltern attended by the 16 students on the plane was set to hold an event Wednesday to honour the victims.

"This is certainly the darkest day in the history of our city," said a tearful Bodo Klimpel, the town's mayor, Tuesday. "It is the worst thing you can imagine."

Spain, meanwhile, declared three days of mourning and was to hold a minute of silence across the country at noon Wednesday.

Opera singers Oleg Bryjak, 54, and Maria Radner, 33, were also on board, flying to their home city of Duesseldorf. Radner was travelling with her husband and baby, one of two infants on board the plane.

Budget airline Germanwings said the Airbus, travelling from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, plunged for eight minutes but the crew made no distress call before crashing near the ski resort of Barcelonnette.

The rapid descent was "unexplained", Marseilles prosecutor Brice Robin said.

One of the plane's black boxes has been found, but it was unclear whether it was the flight data recorder or the cockpit voice recorder. Investigators will continue searching for the second black box Wednesday.

Weather did not appear to be a factor in the crash, with conditions calm at the time, French weather officials said.

Working on assumption of 'accident'

Budget airline Germanwings said the Airbus, travelling from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, plunged for eight minutes but the crew made no distress call before crashing near the ski resort of Barcelonnette.

The rapid descent was "unexplained", Marseilles prosecutor Brice Robin said.

One of the plane's black boxes has been found, but it was unclear whether it was the flight data recorder or the cockpit voice recorder. Investigators will continue searching for the second black box Wednesday.

Weather did not appear to be a factor in the crash, with conditions calm at the time, French weather officials said.

Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, said it was working on the assumption the crash was an "accident".

"Anything else would be speculation," Lufthansa vice president Heike Birlenbach told reporters in Barcelona.

She said the 24-year-old Airbus A320 had undergone its last routine check on Monday.

Germanwings executive Thomas Winkelmann said the pilot had "more than 10 years of experience" and some 6,000 flying hours on an Airbus jet under his belt. It was the fi

rst fatal accident in the history of Germanwings, and the deadliest on the French mainland since 1974 when a Turkish Airlines plane crashed, killing 346 people.

Locals described the difficult terrain that awaited rescue teams.

"Ground access is horrible ... it's a very high mountainous area, very steep and it's terrible to get there except from the air during winter," local resident Francoise Pie said.

The crash site can only be accessed after a three-hour walk from the nearest road.

Another local official, Gilbert Sauvan, told AFP: "The only possible access was by helicopter and people had to be winched down because the choppers couldn't land."

Germanwings said 67 Germans were believed to have been on board, while Spain said 45 people with Spanish-sounding names were on the flight.

Two Colombians, two Argentines, and two Australians were among the dead, according to their governments, while Hollande said Turks may also have been aboard.

Two Japanese were "very likely" on board, their government said. Belgium and Denmark said at least one of their nationals was on board, while Mexico said three of its citizens were believed to be among the victims and Britain said its nationals were also on board.

A Swedish third division football team booked on the fatal flight had changed flights at the last minute. "May they rest in peace," Dalkurd FF goalkeeper Frank Pettersson wrote on Twitter.

The world's worst air disasters remain the March 27, 1977, collision of two Boeing 747s on the runway at Tenerife in the Canary Islands, killing 583 people, and the August 12, 1985 crash into a mountainside of a Boeing 747 belonging to Japan Airlines, killing 520 people.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

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