Wednesday, 19 August 2015

10 die as landslide strikes Sikh temple

A landslide struck a popular Sikh temple complex in northern India on Tuesday, killing at least ten people and wounding 10 others, police said.

Rescue workers equipped with cutting equipment and sniffer dogs were searching through the rubble for survivors after boulders barrelled down a nearby hill onto the complex in Himachal Pradesh state.

“So far we have recovered eight bodies and 10 people have been shifted to hospital,” said Padam Dev, police chief of Kullu district where the accident occurred.

Dev said it was unclear if anybody was trapped, but about 50 pilgrims and temple workers had been inside the complex in Manilkaran town, some 240km from the capital Shimla at the time.

The boulders struck and badly damaged a building adjoining the Gurdwara Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Sikh followers.

The temple was built to commemorate the spot where Sikh religion founder Guru Nanak is said to have meditated more than five centuries ago.

Kullu Deputy Commissioner Rakesh Kanwar confirmed that eight bodies which were buried under huge boulders have been extricated while search is on for more.

Eyewitnesses claimed that the dead could be more than 10 in number as a large number of people had taken shelter in the building, close to the Gurdwara, when the tragedy struck.

The exact number of dead or injured could not be ascertained as some bodies are feared to be buried under the debris.

The district administration has sought the assistance of Gurdwara authorities in locating and identifying the bodies as most people staying in the building were outsiders.

People ran helter-skelter as boulders fell on the building and many were trapped as a huge portion of the three-storey building virtually collapsed.

The locals and Gurdwara management immediately swung into action and started rescue operations while Additional District Magistrate, Sub Divisional Magistrate, Kullu and other district officials rushed to the spot.

Those injured have been admitted to zonal hospital at Kullu and condition of seven of them is stated to be serious. DGP Sanjay Kumar said some of the 10 injured and were in a critical condition.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

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China landslide victims mourned, 52 remain missing

More than 700 people mourned the deaths of at least 12 people in a mudslide that engulfed a mining community in north-western China six days ago, state media reported on Tuesday.

Fifty-two people remain missing after the landslide struck 12.30am on Wednesday (1630 Tuesday GMT).

Most of the 12 bodies were found on Sunday and early on Monday as volunteers helped rescuers dig through the rubble of more than a dozen dormitories and three houses in a village of Shaanxi province, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Relatives of the victims, county officials, soldiers and police paid silent tribute and left flowers at a nearby school.

Torrential rain suspended rescue work on Tuesday, but it will resume as soon as conditions allow, Xinhua said, citing the rescue headquarters.

Ten people escaped and four were dug out from the debris on Wednesday morning, Xinhua reported on Sunday.

The missing included seven children aged 6 or younger, including an 8-month-old girl, according to the People’s Daily newspaper.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

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3 specialist doctors to help identification of Trigana victims

The National Police said on Tuesday they had dispatched three Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) personnel to help identify the bodies of 54 people from a Trigana Air plane that crashed in Oksibil, Pegunungan Bintang regency, Papua, on Sunday.

“The DVI team has arrived at the location. It consists of three specialist doctors, namely a forensic doctor, dental forensic specialist and a DNA expert,” the National Police’s medical and health center head, Arthur Tampi, said as quoted by Antara in Jakarta on Tuesday.

He said the bodies of all 54 crash victims would be evacuated to Bhayangkara Hospital in Jayapura, Papua, for a postmortem examination.“From the crash site, the bodies will be evacuated to the hospital using a helicopter,” said Arthur.As part of their postmortem identification process, the National Police have set up a team to collect data from the victims’ families.

The data comprises medical and dental records and information on tattoos and surgery marks.

“We will examine the postmortem data and match them with the antemortem data,” said Arthur.The Trigana Air PK-YRN aircraft, with flight number IL 267, lost contact on Sunday afternoon and was found "completely destroyed" after it crashed into Mt Tangok in Pegunungan Bintang regency, Papua.

The ATR plane had 5 crew members and 49 passengers on board, including three children and two babies.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

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Bad weather hinders evacuation of bodies from site of Indonesia plane crash

Rescuers on Tuesday reached the site in eastern Indonesia where a passenger plane slammed into a mountain over the weekend.

Heavy fog and bad weather hampered rescuers Wednesday trying to evacuate bodies in eastern Indonesia where a passenger plane crashed into a mountain over the weekend, killing all 54 people on board, officials said.

More than 70 rescuers reached the crash site after being hindered by rugged, forested terrain and bad weather, said Henry Bambang Soelistyo, the National Search and Rescue Agency chief.

The flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder — the plane's "black boxes" — were found in good condition, Soelistyo said. The data they contain could help explain what caused the Trigana Air Service plane to crash Sunday.

"The plane was totally destroyed, and all the bodies were burned and difficult to identify," Soelistyo told The Associated Press.

He said all 54 bodies had been recovered and would be taken to Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, so they can be identified. The ATR42-300 twin turboprop plane was flying from Jayapura to the city of Oksibil with 49 passengers and five crew members on a scheduled 42-minute flight when it lost contact with air traffic control.

Henry Bambang Soelistyo, the National Search and Rescue Agency chief, said bad weather was still hampering the operation and that rescuers would now try to carry the bodies out.

"Heavy rains and poor visibility were hampering our rescue efforts and evacuation process will be done by foot," said Soelistyo, adding the bodies would be taken to Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, so they can be identified.

Soelistyo said the wreckage was at an altitude of 8,500 feet. Much of Papua is covered with impenetrable jungles and mountains. Some planes that have crashed there in the past have never been found.

The airline's crisis center official in Jayapura's Sentani airport, Budiono, said all the passengers were Indonesians, and included three local government officials and two members of the local parliament who were to attend a ceremony Monday in Oksibil marking the 70th anniversary of Indonesia's independence from Dutch colonial rule.

Like many Indonesians, Budiono goes by one name.

Oksibil, about 175 miles south of Jayapura, was experiencing heavy rain, strong winds and fog when the plane lost contact with the airport minutes before it was scheduled to land.

The victims' relatives, who had been waiting at the airport, broke down in tears when they heard the news. Many of them accused the airline of taking too long to give them information.

"They are unprofessional ... they play with our feelings of grieving," said Cory Gasper, whose brother Jhon Gasper was on the plane.

The airline released a public apology just after a search plane spotted the smoldering wreckage of the aircraft Monday.

It's unclear what caused the crash, and Indonesia's transportation safety commission has opened an investigation.

The passengers included four postal workers escorting four bags of cash totaling $468,750 in government aid for poor families to help offset a spike in fuel prices, said Franciscus Haryono, the head of the post office in Jayapura, the provincial capital.

Rescuers have found the money, which was partly scorched, and will hand it over to the authorities, Soelistyo said.

Indonesia has had a string of airline tragedies in recent years. In December, all 162 people aboard an AirAsia jet were killed when the plane plummeted into the Java Sea as it flew through stormy weather on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city, to Singapore.

The sprawling archipelago nation of 250 million people and some 17,000 islands is one of Asia's most rapidly expanding airline markets, but it is struggling to provide enough qualified pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers and updated airport technology to ensure safety.

From 2007 to 2009, the European Union barred Indonesian airlines from flying to Europe because of safety concerns.

Trigana Air Service, which began operations in 1991, had 22 aircraft as of December 2013 and flies to 21 destinations in Indonesia. The carrier has had 19 serious incidents since 1992, resulting in the loss of eight aircraft and major damage to 11 others, according to the Aviation Safety Network's online database.

The airline remains banned from flying to Europe along with six other Indonesian carriers.

Wednesday 19 August 2015,0,6688123.story

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Bodies of 49 migrants who died of asphyxiation arrive in Italy

The 49 bodies of the migrants who died from asphyxiation in the hold of an overcrowded fishing boat off the Italian coast over the weekend arrived in Sicily on Monday.

The Norwegian Frontex coastguard vessel transported some 312 survivors of the recent Mediterranean disaster, as well as a container that carried the bodies of the deceased, to the Sicilian port of Catania.

The death toll was originally thought to be closer to 40, but officials confirmed Sunday that 49 bodies had been found below deck. The victims died amid exhaust fumes and suffocating heat, packed inside a confined space in the boat's hold.

According to officials, the victims were primarily married men who had given spots on the deck to their wives.

In a separate expedition, the Italian coastguard rescued 354 migrants Sunday evening from a fishing boat off its southern coast, with one person found dead on board.

According to the United Nations and official government figures, some 102,000 migrants have arrived on Italian shores since the start of the year while nearly 135,000 have arrived in Greece. Most of those making the dangerous Mediterranean crossing are from war torn countries or fleeing violence and poverty in parts of the Middle East and Africa.

At least 2,300 people have died this year alone making the crossing, according to the latest figures issued by the International Organization for Migration.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

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Arizona: Finding migrants, or their remains

Anne Norris said her son, Andrew, had a close and loving relationship with his father in the short time they were together before the laws and perils of migration pulled them apart.

"He wouldn't go to sleep until his dad came home from work and played with him," she said. "They were inseparable."

The boy is now 8 years old. He was only 2 when his father was deported to El Salvador in March 2009. Yearning to be with his son again, José Ricardo Garay-Garay decided to come back home to California a few months after he was deported.

He called Norris almost every day as he made the perilous journey north. Just as he was getting ready to cross the United States border through Arizona in June 2009, he called her again to let her know he would be home soon.

"That was the last time I talked to him," she said. "About a week and a half later, I knew something was wrong."

Garay-Garay hasn't been heard from or found since then. Migrants who were traveling with him said he couldn't keep up and was left behind. His family is almost certain he died trying to cross the border, but that hasn't stopped Norris from searching for him.

She has spent the last few years trying to find him. She has done so with the help of the Colibrí Center for Human Rights, a non-profit group that helped her create a missing persons report and taught her how to navigate through a national database of missing persons and unidentified decedent records.

Most recently, Norris was able to get a death certificate for the father of her son with the help of a pro-bono attorney and Colibrí's executive director, Robin Reineke.

"Just because I have the death certificate doesn't mean that our search is over; there's still the desire to know where his remains are." Norris said. "This is not the end of this for us. We are still looking for him."

Colibrí is one of the dozens of organizations that help families search for loved ones who've vanished while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, which over the years has become more dangerous for migrants. Increased border security has forced them to travel for longer periods of time—mostly on foot—and through harsh terrain.

Formed in 2006, Colibrí is located inside the Pima County medical examiner's office in Tucson, Ariz. The group helps families by creating forensically detailed missing person reports and working with forensic scientists to identify the remains of those who died along the border.

Colibrí also has a centralized database that contains 2,000 active cases of migrants who've gone missing along the entire southern border. The database contains records of 2,500 bodies — of which 900 remain unidentified — that have been found in Arizona's harsh Sonoran Desert, a popular corridor for migrants.

Getting reliable statistics on migrant deaths and missing for the entire southern border is difficult. Some counties do not keep the data separately, although there is work underway to get more reliable information.

The Border Patrol recorded 307 migrant deaths in 2014, down from 445 in 2013. But there are many migrants who are missing and of those never found, it's unknown whether they are among the dead.

Chelsea Halstead, program manager at Colibrí, said her group is constantly getting calls from family members who are frantically searching for their missing loved ones. The volume of calls increases during the hot summer months, when they get as many as 100 calls a week.

"We have no shortage of calls," she said. "We're constantly on the phone with families gathering information and matches are being made from years ago, so it's a continual process. And sometimes, matches are made long after the person has been cremated."

Halstead said among the missing migrants are usually fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters who made "an incredible sacrifice" to come to the U.S. Their desire was to work and help support their families back home.

"Our mission is to end migrant deaths and their suffering," she said. "But that's never going to be achievable until in the U.S. we recognize that these are lives worth mourning and these are people that we should feel devastated to lose."

Colibrí and other groups like it aren't the only ones searching for migrants who've vanished. U.S. Border Patrol also responds to reports of missing migrants through BORSTAR, short for Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue.

The search and rescue unit was created in 1998 in response to the growing number of injuries to Border Patrol agents and the increase in migrant deaths along the southern border.

On a daily basis, BORSTAR agents respond to distress calls made by migrants who are lost and in poor health. Most migrants call 911 to ask for help and are transferred to BORSTAR, which became a common practice about five years ago when the high volume of 911 calls from migrants overwhelmed counties along the border.

"If it's an emergency situation, we'll deploy every time," said Carl McClafferty, associate chief for special operations at U.S. Border Patrol. "We'll send somebody out and get that mission started."

At the start of every mission, BORSTAR agents gather as much information as possible to help narrow down the search area. They then deploy a ground unit to search on foot, placing cases involving migrants who are still alive ahead of those already deceased. Sometimes air units are called to begin the search if agents can't get out on the ground right away.

Once BORSTAR agents find the migrants, they give them medical attention to stabilize them. Often, migrants are dehydrated after being out in the desert for days, especially during the summer when temperatures reach well over 110 degrees. If advanced medical care is needed, the agents call an ambulance to transport migrants to a hospital.

"We do find them most times and sometimes, unfortunately, we find them when they are deceased," McClafferty said.

The job of BORSTAR agents is mainly to save as many lives as possible. But because they are still Border Patrol agents and share the same priorities, they must arrest people who are crossing the border illegally. That's why migrants who are found during search and rescue missions are ultimately arrested and taken to a Border Patrol station for processing.

Some groups have criticized BORSTAR agents, saying they don't conduct lengthy searches for missing migrants and often take a long time to respond to distress calls. McClafferty, who was on a search and rescue mission the day his youngest daughter was born, said in response to the criticism that BORSTAR agents put in long hours and conduct "very lengthy searches."

"They are out there working every day to save people's lives," he added. "They're putting in numerous hours, a lot of times not making any money for it, but doing it because they care."

Cristen Vernon of Derechos Humanos said her group sometimes asks BORSTAR to search for migrants because it has more resources than they do. The Tucson-based organization runs a 24-hour hotline that families can call to report missing loved ones.

"Sometimes it works, but most of the time it doesn't," Vernon said of the outreach to BORSTAR. "Or the agents will say they'll look around and do a little bit of search and let us know that no one was found. Generally, they don't try very hard."

Instead of relying on BORSTAR to search for migrants, Derechos Humanos and similar groups conduct their own searches. Vernon said her group looks for missing migrants in hospitals, detention centers, police stations and medical examiner's offices.

"In about 70 percent of the cases, people wind up being found in detention centers or the consulate finds them or the family gets a call from them," she said. "But, unfortunately, a larger amount of cases than we would like just go unresolved for years."

Aguilas del Desierto is one of the few organizations that scour the border on foot searching for migrants who've vanished. The group gets alerted about missing migrants mostly from family members who call them. They also get missing migrant reports from other groups, like Derechos Humanos.

Ely Ortiz formed the group about three years ago. Every other weekend, he and about a dozen people—many of them farmworkers, landscapers and truck drivers—drive from California to some of the most remote areas of Arizona's southern desert.

They spend all day Saturday and most of Sunday searching for migrants who've been reported missing. Each search costs about $1,200, which is paid for by donations from local businesses and supporters.

In one of their recent searches, they found a 14-year-old boy from Guatemala who had been lost for days and was in poor health. They provided him aid and called Border Patrol after the boy said he'd rather surrender than to keep going.

"When we resolve a case or rescue a person, it makes us feel good," Ortiz said. "It makes us feel that our work is worthwhile."

For Ortiz, the issue is personal. In 2010, his brother and cousin left Mexico and were making their way across the southern border to come to the U.S. when the guide and migrants they were traveling with left them behind. They were lost, left with no water and fell ill.

Ortiz said his brother, Rigoberto Ortiz, called 911 to ask for help and was transferred to Border Patrol agents, who conducted a helicopter search but never found them.

Longing to find them, Ortiz set out to do his own search on foot with the help of a humanitarian group. He was almost certain his brother and cousin would no longer be alive, but he longed to find their remains to give them a proper burial.

"We found them four months and a half after they had gone missing," he said. "At that point, their bodies were practically skeletons."

From that day forward, Ortiz made it his personal mission to help families search for their missing loved ones. "Every time I go out in the desert and help someone, I feel better as a person," he said. "I feel that I grow as a human being."

Wednesday 19 August 2015

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August 1985: The worst month for air disasters

August 1985 witnessed more passenger and crew deaths on commercial airlines than any other month. What made it so deadly and what changed as a result?

There are many grim landmarks in the history of aviation. One in particular stands out.

Three decades ago, 720 travellers and crew lost their lives on board commercial aircraft in a single month - more than in any other before or since.

The deaths occurred in four separate accidents in August 1985. Each disaster had quite different causes. The aircraft involved ranged from a 747 with hundreds on board to a tiny twin engine turboprop carrying just eight people.

There was Japan Air Lines flight 123, the worst single-aircraft accident in history, in which 520 of 524 on board were killed. A further 137 died when Delta flight 191 flew into heavy winds as it approached Dallas-Fort Worth International. A fire on board British Airtours flight 28M at Manchester Airport led to 55 deaths. And all those on board the smallest aircraft, Bar Harbor Airlines flight 1808, lost their lives as it flew into a small airport in Maine, USA.

Each, in their own way, had a lasting legacy, whether in the memories of those left bereaved or in changes in technology and procedure introduced as a direct result.

The worst death toll was on Japan Air Lines Flight 123, a Boeing 747, which was en route from Tokyo to Osaka on 12 August 1985 when the airtight bulkhead between its cabin and tail tore open.

The change in pressure blew off the vertical stabiliser, or tail fin. It also destroyed the hydraulic systems. The plane lurched up and down.

"The crew heroically fought for over half an hour," says Graham Braithwaite, professor of safety and accident investigation at Cranfield University. But by the time the aircraft plunged to 13,500ft they reported that they had lost control.

The 747 began its final descent. "They were over some pretty mountainous terrain," says Braithwaite. Altitude dropped rapidly. A wing then clipped a ridge before the aircraft hit a second ridge, flipped over and came to rest on its back. It had been 32 minutes since the explosive decompression, enough time for some passengers to write their families farewell notes.

Investigators concluded that the crash was caused by a faulty repair job after the plane's tail struck the runway seven years previously. The damage should have been fixed using a single plate and three rows of rivets. But Boeing engineers used two separate plates, one with two rows of rivets and another with one. Japan Air Lines failed to detect the fault.

For Japan, the crash was deeply traumatic. "The effect was profound," says Braithwaite. Extraordinarily, JAL opened a museum dedicated to the disaster in April 2006. It includes wreckage from the aircraft, letters written by passengers to loved ones and an aviation safety library. All airline staff are obliged to visit it.

There were suggestions that more passengers might potentially have survived if the Japanese authorities had sent rescuers to the crash site sooner, or if they had accepted an offer of help from a nearby United States Air Force base.

And shortly after the disaster JAL maintenance official Hiroo Tominaga killed himself, reportedly leaving a note saying: "I am atoning with my death."

But the accident is rare among major air disasters in that it can be attributed to a single and completely avoidable mechanical fault. With the blame lying with the work of the engineers and JAL's inspection procedures, there were no wider consequences for the air industry.

David Learmount, safety editor at Flight Global, says the botched repair "was a massive error that should never have occurred". In terms of technology and procedure "there was no real legacy".

It was quite a different matter with the disaster at Manchester Airport 10 days later. This proved to be a defining event in the history of aviation safety.

As the charter flight to Corfu prepared for take-off, a punctured wing fuel tank caused a huge ball of fire to ignite. The pilots heard a thump and aborted take-off, but did not realise at first that the blaze was under way. They steered the aircraft into a taxiway upwind of the fire, carrying the flames towards the passengers in the fuselage.

Nearly all those who died did so as a result of smoke inhalation: "The survivors were shocked at how quickly it became impossible to breathe," says Braithwaite. Investigators had found the evacuation had been slowed down because the gap between the seats leading to the over-wing exits was too narrow, and the hatch itself was too difficult to remove.

"Passengers were shouting: 'Fire! fire!' You're having a hundred thoughts. Where's your family? How were they ever going to get out?"

John Beardmore was one of the survivors of the British Airtours flight 28M, which burst into flames on Manchester Airport runway on 22 August 1985, killing 55 people. He recalled the terrifying experience of trying to escape the plane.

The 1985 British Airtours disaster

As a result, there were a series of changes to commercial aircraft design focused on increasing survivability. The exit row was widened and fire-blocking seat covers, floor lighting, fire-resistant ceiling and wall panels and revised evacuation rules were all introduced.

The routine for pilots in the event of runway emergencies was radically changed - they must now pull up as quickly as possible, taking account of wind direction.

SCISAFE, a campaign group set up by victims' relatives, also campaigned for the introduction of passenger smoke hoods but these have not been adopted.

"There has to be something to justify 55 people losing their lives," says William Beckett, whose 18-year-old daughter Sarah died on the Manchester runway. It was her first time on board an aeroplane. She had chosen to sit at the back because the four survivors of Japan Air Lines Flight 123 had been seated at the rear.

There were also changes introduced as a result of the Delta flight 191 crash in Texas on 2 August. The plane was coming in for landing when it hit a microburst - a small-scale downburst, or column of sinking air.

The aircraft crashed north of the runway and careered along the ground into a highway, killing a driver, before hitting two water tanks and bursting into flames. Of 163 passengers and crew, only 27 survived.

An investigation found that, although the pilot had been experienced, there was a lack of training when it came to dealing with microbursts. The radar on board the aircraft was able to detect thunderstorms but not downbursts of this kind.

"One of the things that was not understood at the time was the structure of a downburst," says Learmount.

"That was understood within a very short period of time. That was coincidence but they very, very quickly developed a windshear warning system for the pilots." The US Federal Aviation Administration soon required all commercial aircraft to install these.

August 1985's final accident came when Bar Harbor Airlines flight 1808 struck short of the runway at Auburn/Lewiston Municipal Airport in Maine, USA, and crashed. All six passengers and two crew members were killed.

The crash of a such a small aircraft would not normally have attracted much attention, but one of the passengers was 13-year-old Samantha Smith, who had attracted widespread media attention three years previously when she wrote to Soviet premier Yuri Andropov pleading for peace. She had subsequently made a widely publicised tour of the USSR and acted in an American TV drama.

In the Soviet Union there was speculation of foul play, but an investigation found no evidence of this. It concluded that there had been a ground radar failure and the pilots had been inexperienced fliers on what was a rainy night. Both US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sent their condolences.

It was a sad end to a tragic month. But according to Learmount it was far less shocking than it would be today, due to the far greater prevalence of airline accidents in the mid-1980s.

"Aviation was different then," says Learmount. "It's infinitely more sophisticated now. Safety has been absolutely transformed. It would be very difficult for people now to understand what it felt like. Crashes were regular things."

Since the 1990s the number of annual aviation fatalities has been on a downward trend - notwithstanding the spike in 2014, which saw two disasters involving Malaysia Airlines planes - the disappearance of MH370 and the shooting down of flight MH17 over Ukraine - as well as the disappearance of an Air Asia flight to Singapore.

That improved safety record can be attributed, in part, to the changes introduced in the wake of August 1985.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

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