Friday, 12 June 2015

Number of border crossers' remains recovered in Arizona last year was lowest since 2001

The remains of 129 people who died trying to cross the U.S. border were recovered in the southern Arizona desert last year, the lowest number since 2001, authorities said.

But Pima County Chief Medical Examiner Gregory Hess said that didn't necessarily mean fewer people tried to cross the unforgiving desert.

Border Patrol agents could have changed their routes, he told the Los Angeles Times, or smaller groups traveling together could be reducing the odds that someone would call emergency responders about a person who was left behind.

“The fact that most of the remains are skeletal means it’s unknown when they died,” Hess said.

The Pima County medical examiner's office is responsible for analyzing the remains of "undocumented border crossers" collected along most of the Arizona border, including Santa Cruz and Cochise counties.

Others classified as border crossers who died elsewhere can come to the Pima County medical examiner’s office from as far north as Phoenix, where people who die bearing obvious signs of crossing the border are counted as unidentified border crossers.

“It may be 15 people after crossing the border in a truck near Phoenix at night with no headlights and it rolls, and five people die,” Hess told the Los Angeles Times. “Those five people would come to us.”

Most of the recovered remains were skeletal, most were men, and most were from Mexico, the medical examiner's annual report said. In 84% of the cases, the cause of death was unknown.

The number of recoveries peaked in the summer, consistent with previous years, the report said. That number was far lower than the 168 recovered in 2013 or 156 in 2012, but still higher than 2001, when the remains of 77 people were found.

The worst year by far since the medical examiner’s office began collecting data was 2010, when 223 bodies were found, the report said – 99 in June, July and August alone, overwhelming the office.

Border crossing deaths constitute a tiny percentage of the bodies received by the medical examiner, but are often the ones that require the most attention.

The work can be agonizingly difficult. Without identifying documents, or with documents that may be fake, the process of tracking down survivors can be impossible.

Outside of the summer months, the number of recoveries last year was fairly consistent. Between nine and 11 remains were found in each month except January (12) and February (7).

Friday 12 June 2015

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Rain hampers Nepal landslide search

Rescuers are searching through piles of rocks and debris after a landslide swept through six mountainous Nepalese villages.

Heavy rain hampered the search in Taplejung district, about 310 miles east of the capital Kathmandu, where the landslide on Wednesday night caught residents asleep.

A lull in the monsoon rains yesterday enabled a rescue helicopter to evacuate eight injured people.

The remote area was pounded by the highest rainfall in 27 years, according to the Nepal's Department Of Hydrology and Meteorology. The nearest town is at least five hours away on foot when the weather is good. There are no government offices or police stations in the area.

Landslides are common in mountainous Nepal during the rainy season, which began in June and ends in September.

The Himalayan nation is still recovering from earthquakes in April and May that killed more than 8,700 people and caused massive damage, with many roads cut off by landslides.

Meanwhile, the government announced it would hire international experts to study trekking routes in the mountains of Nepal to see if they are safe for hikers to return.

Nineteen people were killed and scores injured in an avalanche at Mount Everest base camp triggered by the April 25 quake. Also, the trails around the Langtang valley in northern Nepal were damaged and an entire village buried by a landslide and avalanche set off by the earthquake.

Tens of thousands of foreigners come to Nepal every year to trek on the foothills of the Himalayan peaks. The next trekking season starts in September.

Friday 12 June 2015

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More than 80 people died racing crash 60 years ago

The single worst day in motorsports history happened exactly 60 years ago today. The tragedy at the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans gets brought up each year the race is held, but it’s even more notable this year on its 60th anniversary.

the 1955 Le Mans 24-hour race started like any other. It ended with the usual champagne, as well. In the middle as many as 130 died in the most horrific disaster in motorsports history.

It's hard to say just how many people died in the crash. The French police files have never been opened, and one long time Le Mans racing chief later estimated the death toll at 130. Within hours of the crash, the local police reported sixty five dead, as one racer remembered, and now the death toll is usually reported as something in the 80s. An initial news report claims 82 spectators killed, some decapitated by a flying hood "like a guillotine." Another 120 were "maimed," according to current writing, though initial news stories estimated around 70. All of this was from one car cutting through the crowd alone.

It remains the worst disaster in motorsports history.

I'll try and give an explanation of how it happened, why so many people died, and why the organizers didn't cancel the race after the crash.

The '55 Le Mans race looked like it would be one of the greatest since WWII. One British race report praised the variety of the field representing "a United Nations of motor racing." The greatest carmakers in the world were competing, as were the best drivers. Future British F1 champion Mike Hawthorn drove for Jaguar and then-F1 champion Fangio drove for Mercedes, along with British phenom Stirling Moss, American John Fitch, and Frenchman Pierre Levegh. Levegh would die before sunset.

The crash happened only a few hours into the race, just as the leaders started making their first pit stops. Everything started when Hawthorn in his Jaguar cut in for the pits. I should say that the 'pits' were completely undivided from the racetrack back then. All he did was turn in abruptly. So abruptly that he ended up missing his garage space and was ordered to do another lap to make it back around since backing up wasn't allowed.

When he finally made it into the pits again, past what was then the scene of the crash, tears were streaming down his face.

Just behind Hawthorn was a much slower Austin-Healey, actually a lap down on Hawthorn. Behind them were two Mercedes: Levegh ahead of Fangio.

The Austin-Healey driver had to swerve out of the way as Hawthorn darted into the pits. As the Austin-Healey moved across the road, Levegh raised his hand. As a contemporary issue of LIFE states, it was to signal to Fangio behind him to slow down. At 125 miles an hour, "he had no chance to do so himself."

Levegh crashed into the back of the Austin-Healey. The Austin-Healey spun into the wall, killing one spectator but leaving its driver unharmed. Its sloping back acted like a ramp for Levegh's Mercedes, however, which flew into the air.

The Mercedes crashed into the embankment that bordered the track, killing Levegh instantly. The car split into three pieces. The body fell one way, the engine broke free and shot off, and the hood and front axle flew further.

This newsreel without sound shows the crash as it actually happened. In its silence, you sense the horror of what's being recorded.

The crash was right in front of a densely packed crowd and grandstands, protected by nothing more than a few hay bales. One spectator actually recorded the crash head-on. It shows you not only how the crash happened, but how little stood between those watching and the flying wreckage. The film cuts short as the recorder dives for cover.

The pieces of the Mercedes ripped through the crowd, crushing and decapitating. Racing fuel exploded.

The Mercedes' body was partially made of a magnesium alloy. One marshal tried to douse the burning wreckage with water and sent huge bursts of white hot fire into the crowd, killing more as this recent history explains.

An American soldier at the race, Jimmy Prickett, was at the scene and took pictures immediately following the crash. I am including all of his pictures preserved by the AP, as well as all of the photographs taken by the AP itself. I've seen many shots of the '55 disaster, but never all of them in one place outside of the AP archives.

At first you can see people running from the fire.

But you quickly start to see people running towards the smoldering wreck, hoping to rescue anyone still alive.

The healthy carry bodies away from the wreckage. Here, a man holds the body of a child.

It's not long before you see bodies piled up.

And then laid out, covered in blankets.

Two hours later, photographers captured priests performing last rites.

Modern race cars have fuel cells which keep fuel from spreading as it did here, and they don't use magnesium like they did then, either.

Just How Horrifying Was The Worst Crash In Motorsports, Le Mans '55?

Even at the scene, it doesn't look like anyone knows what's going on.

At a gathering for his 92nd birthday, Mercedes driver John Fitch explained just how little the drivers knew. From the pits, they couldn't get across to the wreck, and it was hard to tell how bad everything was. The circuit at Le Mans is incredibly long, and information was even more sparse away from the immediate vicinity of the crash. Life reported that it was days before drivers put together exactly what happened and the public at large learned the gravity of the crash.

The Le Mans organizers did not actually stop the race. Supposedly they were concerned that crowds of people leaving the track would keep ambulances from getting to those in need.

Now it's recorded that Mercedes pulled out of the race following the crash. At the time, it took over six hours for the team to withdraw its cars. Fitch explained that he only got an idea of how bad things were when he overheard a journalist friend of his reporting news that some 65 people were reported dead. This was only a few hours after the crash.

Fitch approached one of the Mercedes team bosses and explained to him why it made sense for the very German team (many of those working at the team were very much active when Mercedes race cars had swastikas painted on the side) to pull out of this French race. Fitch said that in light of "recent unpleasantness," Mercedes "should not win this race over the bodies of ...however many.. French people." The shadow of World War Two crept over the race.

Even then, it took hours for that Mercedes boss to reach his superiors and get their approval to withdraw their cars. Below is that interview in full.

When Mercedes pulled out, they approached the Jaguar team. It was Hawthorn's Jaguar that started the whole incident, after all. The Jaguar boss didn't have to report back to the factory, and when Mercedes came up to him to say they weren't going to finish the race, they asked if he would too. hosts right here a 1993 report on the race, and includes a comment from 'Lofty' England, the Jaguar team boss.

I did not discuss who might have been to blame but said that I believed the organizers had been right to continue the race and that Mercedes, having continued to race for more than six hours after the accident, I could not see the point in them withdrawing, and I did not intend to pull out the cars. Jaguar went on to win the race. After his victory, Hawthorn celebrated with champagne. Here he is, still in his car after crossing the finish line, reaching up for a kiss from a local girl.

The French press, who knew better than most how awful the crash had been, scorned Hawthorn, blamed him for the crash, and in disgust carried pictures of him celebrating after the race, as the BBC reports.

Many other drivers tried to describe the whole crash as a blameless 'racing incident,' but Hawthorn blamed Lance Macklin, the driver of the Austin-Healey. He wrote a book saying so, and Macklin then sued Hawthorn for libel. It might have been the case that determined who was at fault once and for all, but Hawthorn died before the case could be resolved. His car skidded off the road on a wet British highway in 1959. You can read a recent interpretation from a lawyer right here for a deeper look into what it would take to assign definitive blame.

But it's wrong to try and point fingers. The importance of the crash is not how two cars crashed into each other.

It's important to look at why so many people died — that medical attention was so poor, that the Mercedes so easily split into multiple parts and sprayed out its fuel, that the crowd was so poorly protected.

It's easy to find reports of the crash today that talk about how desensitized the public was to the crash. It was only ten years after the end of WWII, and dead bodies in the French countryside was fresh in everyone's memory.

But I am not fully convinced that everyone was as cold to the crash then as they are now. France and Switzerland both banned motor racing after Le Mans. France kept the ban until they they made safety improvements to the tracks, such as breaking down the grandstands at the crash site. Switzerland's motorsports ban still stands today.

That said, many contemporary race reports treat the crash unbelievably mildly. One newsreel, minutes after describing the crash, goes on to talk about a car getting stuck in a sandy embankment. The announcer claims that the sand trap has "claimed another victim." This would be unbelievably flippant today.

So what are we, in 2014, left with? There is no question that racing cars today are almost infinitely safer than those of 1955. Earlier this week an Audi R18 shot backwards into a wall and the driver survived with only a few friction burns.

That being said, while the Audi successfully protected its driver, it hit an unprotected, hard wall. Last year, Aston Martin GT driver Allan Simonsen died when he crashed into an insufficiently protected tree. Three years ago, another Audi crashed and nearly careened over a low wall into a large row of photographers. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is safer, much safer, than it was in 1955, but it is still a deadly track.

Maybe that's what makes these pictures still so very chilling.

Friday 12 June 2015

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Cyprus: Missing persons a Confidence Building Measure

It is thought that the issue of missing persons in Cyprus could be solved through the new momentum in the negotiating process of the Cyprus problem.

Nicosia and Washington think the missing persons issue could be a Confidence Building Measure for the island.

This is the common position outlined by Cyprus’ Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Issues and Overseas Cypriots, Fotis Fotiou, and the Director of Europe Division in the Department of Political Affairs of the UN, Elizabeth Spehar.

Fotiou and Spehar held a meeting in Washington on Wednesday, during which the Cypriot Commissioner briefed the UN official on the latest developments.

Fotiou raised the issue of missing persons and stressed that as a primarily humanitarian and not political issue it would be an important Confidence Building Measure, the resolution of which would have beneficial effects on a social and political level.

Fotiou expressed the determination and will of the Cypriot government to resolve the issue of missing persons. It is expected that the Turkish side will show the same will and the same sincere effort, he said.

Fotiou concluded his visit to the USA, where he represented President Nicos Anastasiades at the annual meeting of the American Jewish Committee, with meetings in New York with the Greek Community and UN officials.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Cypriot Commissioner had a meeting with the board of the Cyprus-US Chamber and participated in a roundtable discussion on “Cypriot Diaspora and the role of the new generation”, organized by the youth of the Cyprus Federation.

Various issues concerning the Cypriot community of America were discussed on Tuesday at a meeting of the Presidential Commissioner with the board of the Cyprus Federation, in the presence of PSEKA President Philip Christopher.

Fotiou, accompanied by the Consul General Vasilis Philippou, met with the Archbishop Demetrios of America. Speaking after the meeting, Fotiou said he briefed Archbishop Demetrios on the positive developments in Cyprus after the election of Moustafa Akinci in the leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community.

“However, we should wait to see how the discussion proceeds in the difficult issues of the Cyprus problem and how Turkey will react and behave”, he said and added that from his contacts in the US, he ascertained that everybody wishes for progress.

As a result of the 1974 Turkish invasion against Cyprus, 1,619 Greek Cypriots were listed as missing, most of whom soldiers or reservists, who were captured in the battlefield. Many of those missing were last seen alive in the hands of the Turkish military. A further 41 more cases of Greek Cypriot missing persons have been added. These cases concern the period between 1963-1964, when inter-communal fighting broke out but none of them has been identified yet.

The number of Turkish Cypriot missing since 1974 and 1963/64 stood at 503. A total of 1073 remains have been exhumed by the CMP, 546 of which have been identified with the DNA method (421 Greek Cypriots and 125 Turkish Cypriots). Only 27% of all missing persons have been identified so far.

Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. UN backed talks are currently underway between Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, aiming to reunify the island under a federal roof.

Friday 12 June 2015

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First USS Oklahoma remains exhumed

The Defense Department announced in April that the remains of up to nearly 400 unaccounted for service members tied to the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor will be exhumed.

That process began on Monday.

“This was the first set of remains from the USS Oklahoma to be disinterred,” said Jim Horton, the director of the Punchbowl cemetery.

Disinterment ceremonies were held when the bones of Korean War veterans were exhumed for identification. Now, hundreds who served on USS Oklahoma during World War II may also be identified.

The attack happened at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. But many bodies weren’t removed until months later, making it difficult to positively identify the servicemen.

“We will take care of disinterring 65 caskets in 41 grave sites. That is approximately 388 sets of remains,” said Horton.

As each set of remains is removed, special ceremonies will be held at the cemetery.

“We will have full military detail. The coffins are draped with the American flag when they are removed and they are given full military transfer,” added Horton.

The remains will face months of DNA and forensic work, but those who suffered a loss in Pearl Harbor are one step closer to peace.

Friday 12 June 2015

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