Tuesday, 6 October 2015

85 dead migrants found washed up in Libya, 2 children in Kos

The bodies of 85 migrants have been found washed up on the coast of Libya, a major departure point for the sea crossing to Europe, the Red Crescent said Monday. Since Tuesday, volunteers have recovered dozens of bodies of migrants in an advanced stage of decomposition on beaches near the capital, spokesman Mohamed al-Misrati said.

They found 75 bodies around Tripoli and another 10 in Sabratah, 70 kilometres (43 miles) to the west, he said.

The Libyan coastguard said it had also rescued 212 migrants from two overloaded rubber dinghies off the Libyan coast.

“We were informed of the presence of two large zodiacs off the coast of Garabulli” 60 kilometres east of Tripoli, a coastguard officer told AFP.

He said that 22 women were among the rescued migrants, who were of different nationalities including many Senegalese and Sudanese.

A Libyan Red-Crescent team, in collaboration with the Libyan navy, on Friday recovered 26 bodies of illegal migrants off the coasts of Tajoura, in the eastern suburb of Tripoli.

“The Red-Crescent team recovered 26 bodies that are supposed to be those of illegal migrants found off the coasts of the region of Tajoura.

“The bodies were transferred to the morgue of the medical centre in Tripoli,’’ the Director of Information at the Red-Crescent, Malek Marsait, said.

According to him, the Libyan Red-Crescent team had earlier on Wednesday recovered the bodies of three others at the same place, despite the difficult access to the place.

Libya, with a coastline of 1,770 kilometres, has for years been a stepping stone for Africans bound for Europe. Most head for Italy’s Lampedusa island which is 300 kilometres from Libya.

People smugglers have taken advantage of chaos in Libya since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi to step up their lucrative business. In exchange for steep fees, they take would-be migrants on board rickety boats for the treacherous crossing.

About 515,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean this year alone, with up to 3,000 people dead or reported missing in that period, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees.

Meanwhile, the badly decomposed bodies of two children were found washed up on the Greek island of Kos, the latest victims of a crisis that has seen 630,000 people enter the EU illegally this year.

A dead baby boy, thought to be less than a year old, was discovered on a hotel beach early Sunday, dressed in green trousers and a white t-shirt. The decomposed body of an older child, wearing blue trousers and a pink t-shirt, believed to be three- to five-years old, was found hours later at the same spot. Authorities believe the children were from migrant families that had been trying to reach Kos by dinghy, Greek media reported.

Both bodies have been transferred to hospital for an autopsy and DNA testing. Greece has been struggling to cope with a wave of migrants making the dangerous crossing from Turkey.

The EU’s border chief Fabrice Leggeri said 630,000 people have entered the bloc illegally this year. Brussels and Ankara are reportedly set to approve Monday a plan that would see Turkey join Greek coastguard patrols in the eastern Aegean, coordinated by EU border protection agency Frontex.

Tuesday 6 October 2015


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Mecca stampede: DNA extracted from unidentified bodies to find missing pilgrims

Results of DNA samples, extracted from nails of unidentified dead pilgrims to compare them with the relatives of the missing Egyptians, will be announced after 10 days, the Minister of Health Ahmed Emad announced Sunday.

The samples were extracted by Saudi authorities. There are a total 96 Egyptians reported missing during the annual event of Hajj, meaning pilgrimage.

The Saudi authorities first took hand prints of all the deceased, “which is no longer useful and accurate due to the decomposition of the body,” Rady said in a Sunday statement. He added that DNA under fingernails gives more conclusive results within not more than 14 days.

Saudi Arabia previously announced it had agreed to receive DNA samples from Egyptians whose relatives have been missing to compare them with the bodies of unidentified victims.

Rady also said that five Egyptian pilgrims are the total death toll in an accident that took place right ahead of Hajj season, when a construction crane fell on pilgrims in the Mecca’s holy mosque killing more than 100. Seven out of 28 Egyptians injured in the accident are still receiving treatment in Saudi Arabia hospitals.

Some of the pilgrims suffered memory loss during the season, due to being subjected to “sunstroke,” said Rady; the temperature degrees during the season hit high in the kingdom.

The Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowment) has announced that the death toll of Egyptian pilgrims in a stampede in Mecca hit 138.

The five-day rituals of Hajj started Sept. 26, since then, an Egypt Air bridge has been transporting pilgrims back from Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday 6 October 2015


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60th anniversary of deadly Wyoming plane crash

John Vandel was a junior pharmacy major at the University of Wyoming when he and his Sigma Nu brothers received a phone call from United Airlines.

It was the morning of Friday, Oct. 7, 1955.

Flight 409 had crashed into the east side of Medicine Bow Peak just 24 hours earlier.

"The guy that called us had been in our fraternity years before," Vandel said. "So, he called our fraternity and said, 'If you get some guys up there, we're going to pay you pretty well.' So, all the guys volunteered."

People were needed to remove the bodies of the 66 people aboard the plane, and Vandel agreed to help.

"It was all curiosity," he said. "We got to go up and see what it was all about."

He didn't know the crash 40 miles west of Laramie was, at the time, the worst air disaster in United States history.

Sixty-three passengers and three crew members sat in the DC-4 aircraft, a four-engine propeller airplane, as it left Denver International Airport the morning of Oct. 6, 1955, with plans to land in Salt Lake City less than three hours later, according to United Airlines documents — just one of many documents about the crash stored in the UW American Heritage Center.

Among the 66 people aboard were members of the U.S. military, choir members from Salt Lake City and two infants.

The normal flight path goes far north of Laramie to skirt the Snowy Range. However, a United Airlines investigation after the crash concluded pilots would occasionally fly over Medicine Bow Peak to save time.

Windy weather as reported over the Snowies the night before the crash, along with possible snowfall — less than ideal flying conditions.

When flight 409 failed to report in to Rock River, fighter jets from the Wyoming Air National Guard were scrambled with orders to find a missing aircraft.

The plane crashed at 7:26 a.m., according to onboard clocks recovered after the crash, the investigation report states. It exploded on impact, creating a debris field about a mile long. Two huge black scorch marks blighted the side of the mountain.

Wreckage and bodies were catapulted over the precipice — the plane hit only 25 feet below the mountain crest. The tail section broke off and lodged itself on a small outcropping halfway down the cliff. The rest of the wreckage tumbled down snowy rocks, coming to rest at the foot of the peak.

The crash was discovered by an F-80 fighter jet based out of F. E. Warren Air Force Base at 11:40 a.m. the day of the crash. The pilot spotted "a huge black smudge where it hit the peak and pieces of wreckage that slid 200 feet down the side of the precipice," an Oct. 6, 1955, Laramie Boomerang article states.

With bad weather still engulfing the crash site, the jets were ordered back to base before more surveillance could be completed.

Bob Foster, a Civil Air Patrol member from Laramie, was the first person to reach the crash site. He recounted his experience during a 1996 interview for the American Heritage Center.

"As we walked along the tail slope of the mountain, we started to run into the wreckage, landing gears and main struts of the wing. And then you look to where we saw the plane crash and you see those airplane parts quarter of a mile away, it's obviously going to be a really bad scene. You don't really expect to find any live people."

Personnel began arriving soon after the crash was discovered — a group of 14 rescue workers from the Denver operating base of United Airlines arrived by plane at 2 p.m. Thursday.

The timing of the disaster couldn't have been worse — more than 1,500 Shriners packed the hotels of Laramie for a ceremony, leaving almost no place to house the scores of United Airlines personnel streaming into the area.

Double cots from the university were brought to the Connor Hotel. Some Shriners also gave up their rooms for emergency workers and airline personnel. More than 125 people were at the crash site by Thursday night.

Only the best mountaineers could reach the peak where a majority of the wreckage was scattered — many of the trails and paths available today did not exist in 1955.

Dr. John Bunch made the climb with airline officials, local law enforcement and reporters to the base of the cliffs above Mirror Lake to treat any potential survivors.

The state of the bodies was such that they could only "be identified only by fingerprints," he told the Boomerang.

The explosion showered the area with wreckage workers had to avoid.

"There were large sections of twisted metal at the base of the cliff, so twisted, in fact, that you couldn't tell what it was," Bunch said. "There were pieces of the plane all over the base of the mountain."

Body bags were brought to the crash site to transport the dead to the bottom of the cliff. A rope-and-pulley system about 900 feet long was created, running from the top of the cliff to the base of the mountain, UW Outing Club member Richard W. Murphy says in a report.

Vandel arrived later that Friday, after the system was set up. He worked the lower end of the pulley system.

"We got a call early that morning and we all skipped class and went up there," he said. "The university excused us."

About 30 people were helping in the area, Vandel estimated, although he didn't know how many others worked at the peak or in the identification room.

UW summer science camp — essentially a log cabin not far from the site — served as a temporary morgue.

"They did all of their identifying in there, and we weren't allowed in there," he said. "In fact, nobody wanted to go in there."

All of the victims were in bags by the time Vandel and his fraternity brothers received them at the base of the mountain — with some bags labeled "spare parts." The group avoided some of the traumatic sights others higher up the mountain saw.

"We were all kind of having fun and joking around in between trips, but it was serious business," he said.

Fifty-seven victims had been recovered from the mountain by the afternoon of the following Monday, a spokesman from United Airlines stated in the Oct. 10 Boomerang. He estimated 125 people were still working at the site.

Members of the University of Wyoming and the University of Colorado alpine teams were working in six-man shifts, searching for and lowering bodies.

By that Tuesday, all victims had been recovered and identified.

While the victims had been removed from the site, wreckage from the large four-engine airplane was still strewn about, from pistons and wing struts to landing gear and propellers. However, the entire tail section of the plane was still lodged precariously in the mountain face.

It was decided the wreckage needed to be destroyed to discourage curious climbers. The solution was to shoot the tail down with a recoilless rifle — similar to a small artillery piece — Don Sims said in a 1996 American Heritage Center interview.

"They didn't want to leave it there because there were so many people crawling around in there," he said. "Do you think that thing would come down? Oh no — it took hit after hit."

Eventually, the wreckage was dispersed, but many pieces of the destroyed aircraft litter the mountain base to this day.

Several theories formed about what caused the crash, but none was confirmed.

Three local loggers were working at a site about 10 miles southeast of the crash, and one told the board the right inboard motor of the DC-4 was not rotating, possibly indicating some sort of mechanical failure.

United Airlines officials said wreckage showed the engine was working; Even if the engine was out, it should not have caused a crash.

The loggers also estimated the plane was at about 10,000 feet — the plane was about 300 feet above the treetops and the camp's elevation was 9,600 feet. Board members said this was "dangerously low," especially for an unpressurized aircraft — passengers would begin to feel ill effects at that altitude.

Throughout the investigation, United Airlines managers in Denver and Salt Lake City said the pilot, Capt. Clinton C. Cooke, Jr., and his first officer Ralph D. Salisburg, Jr, were good pilots with a perfect record. Cooke had flown the route 45 times in the previous year, a Civil Aeronautics Board Accident Investigation Report states, and had never been known to deviate from the flight plan without telling a dispatcher.

However, it is almost certain the pilots purposely went out of their way to fly over the mountains, the report states.

"It is difficult to understand how a pilot of Capt. Cooke's experience would deliberately attempt a shortcut and, even if he did, why he would have flown at such a low altitude over hazardous terrain," it states. "It is true the flight was an hour and 11 minutes late; however, the time saved by taking a shortcut would have been inconsequential."

It goes on to state deviating from the course "would have been breaking rigid company rules and his record indicated that he had never been known to do so."

Carbon monoxide poisoning leading to crew incapacitation was also listed as a possible — albeit unlikely — cause.

Today, hikers and climbers near Medicine Bow Peak can view pieces of the wreckage, although the black scars on the cliff face faded long ago.

Vandel kept a piece of wreckage for many years, he said, and still occasionally thinks about the crash today.

"I kept on wondering, over the years, how the devil they did it," he said. "How did he happen to just run into a mountain?"

Tuesday 6 October 2015


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Italian lab battles ‘not to lose the dead’ from migrant ships

In one photograph, a pretty, young Eritrean woman dressed in cheerful colors smiles brightly into the camera. In another, glazed eyes stare out of a blue, bloated face, typical of drowning victims.

But it is the teeth, frozen in a grimace of death, that the scientists here were interested in. They were a match.

The finding will allow them at least to let the woman’s family know for sure that she — their daughter, wife or sister perhaps — was indeed among the 368 migrants who died when their boat capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa two years ago this month as they tried to make their way to Europe.

So far this year, almost 2,900 migrants have drowned making the crossing to Europe from North Africa. Very often, they are the nameless victims of one of this young century’s greatest tidal movements of people fleeing war and poverty — dying in anonymity, far from home, their loved ones left in limbo about their fates, and the authorities uncertain of exactly who they are.

Since the spring of 2014, however, this laboratory at the University of Milan has been working to give a name to those hundreds of unidentified migrants who drowned at sea in the Lampedusa wreck and others.

“Our battle is not to lose the dead,” said Dr. Cristina Cattaneo, a forensic pathologist, who runs the Labanof, the laboratory that has been building a databank to help identify the scores of victims of some of the worst migrant shipwrecks off Italy in recent years.

Even now, two years after the sinking, nearly 200 victims of the Lampedusa wreck have not been officially identified. “The more decomposed they are the more difficult it is to identify them,” Dr. Cattaneo said.

Fearful of European regulations that force migrants to ask for asylum in the first country in which they land, many migrants do not carry any ID, making identification even harder.

Another challenge has been reaching the families of the victims, many of whom live in war-torn or repressive countries, or in places where medical records are difficult to retrieve.

“Our problem has been contacting relatives,” said Vittorio Piscitelli, since 2014 Italy’s High Commissioner for Missing Persons, whose office has reached out to embassies and various humanitarian agencies — like the International Committee for the Red Cross — for assistance.

Even when relatives can be tracked down in Europe, getting them to come to Italy for the identification process can be time consuming and costly. In addition, in countries like Eritrea, where many of the Lampedusa victims came from, relatives of migrants risk repercussions from an oppressive government.

Still, over the past years, small groups of family members of presumed victims have traveled to Italy — initially to Rome but now to the lab — hoping to find news of their loved ones.

They bring fragments of lost lives — photographs, ID cards and photos or videos, clinical and dental records and personal effects like toothbrushes or combs — to help make a match.

At the lab, assisted by a psychologist, they are interviewed by trained personnel and then pore through an evolving database of personal effects, like bracelets or necklaces, phones, or clothes, looking for identifying clues.

DNA comparisons are also made, and much of the data is culled from autopsies: tattoos, surgery scars, dental records and other biological remains.

Adal Neguse, 40, an Eritrean migrant now living in Stockholm, was the first relative to arrive in Lampedusa after the Oct. 3, 2013, shipwreck, searching for his brother Abraham.

He determined from survivors that his brother had perished, and spent a fruitless week trying to find his corpse, looking at photographs of the victims.

“I finally had to stop because it was too disturbing,” he said. Abraham was eventually identified some months later through the clothing he was wearing.

Adal Neguse, 40, lost his brother in a shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa. Credit Alessandro Penso for The New York Times

In Lampedusa, Mr. Neguse was inundated by telephone calls from other Eritreans who could not make the trip and did not know whom to call for information.

“People would ring all day and night,” said Mr. Neguse, who passed through Rome on Monday to take part in a commemoration ceremony for the Lampedusa victims on the island.

The aim of the laboratory, and of the Italian authority that oversees it, is eventually to help relatives like him identify their loved ones by setting up a broad database of all the victims of the Mediterranean crossing to Italy.

In attempting to do so, Italy was “moved by humanitarian and ethical reasons, as well as a sense of pietas for the dead, and to grant relatives some peace,” said Mr. Piscitelli, who coordinates the laboratory’s work.

In fact, the Lampedusa sinking of Oct. 3, 2013, though a tragedy that riveted global attention on the scale and dangers of the migrants’ crossing, is just one of several sizable calamities that the authorities and the lab have had to deal with.

Another 200 or so migrants — again mostly Eritrean — died off Lampedusa eight days after the Oct. 3 sinking. And this April, more than 700 people drowned when their ship sank some 70 nautical miles off Libya.

The Italian Navy began removing the corpses from the wreck near Libya in July and Dr. Cattaneo’s team has been carrying out the autopsies in an improvised, but high-tech, tent set up on a NATO base in Melilli, Sicily.

The team involves experts from four universities as well as biologists, anthropologists, forensic dentists and specialized technicians developing a single protocol that can be used in any shipwreck situation, she said.

After autopsies, the victims have been buried in cemeteries throughout Sicily.

So far, some 20 victims have been identified through the lab’s work.

“It’s a small number, but it means that the procedure works,” Dr. Cattaneo said. “The problem is how to enlarge it. The bigger the numbers, the bigger the costs.”

Mr. Piscitelli’s office has been lobbying to expand the database to include the victims of all shipwrecks in Italy. As of now, the lab has focused on three major shipwrecks. Other disasters have been handled by local police and prosecutors, and Mr. Piscitelli would like to better coordinate their results into one database.

But for now, his office does not have the resources. Humanitarian agencies charge that few resources are allocated to missing migrants because the dead are not a priority.

As political strife and economic conditions remain unstable in parts of the Middle East and Africa, there is no indication that migrants will stop gambling their lives for a better future in Europe any time soon. And if anything, those here say, the need for their work will continue to expand.

“It will never be over as long as poor people attempt the Mediterranean crossing, putting their lives at risk,” Mr. Piscitelli said.

Tuesday 6 October 2015


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French Riviera floods: Death toll rises to 19

At least 19 people, including one Briton, have been found dead following flash floods on the French Riviera.

The death toll rose after two bodies were discovered on Monday. One person remains missing but another was found alive, according to reports.

Violent storms and heavy rain on Saturday evening sent torrents of water and mud through several towns.

As well as the Briton, an Italian woman and a Portuguese man were also among those killed, AFP news agency said.

French President Francois Hollande has announced a state of "natural disaster" in the affected region.

Forecasters have faced criticism over the effectiveness of weather alerts.


The area is estimated to have received more than 10% of its average yearly rainfall in two days alone. Rivers burst their banks, sending water coursing into nearby towns and cities.

Divers found one body in the worst-hit town of Mandelieu-la-Napoule on Monday.

Eight are now confirmed killed there after being trapped in garages when they tried to remove their cars, officials say.

In other developments on Monday:

◾Another body was found in an underground parking lot in Cannes, leaving one person still missing in the city
◾A 90-year-old man reported missing was found alive in Antibes, according to local media
◾Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told Europe 1 (in French) that two people had been sent before a judge while seven others remained in custody after being arrest on suspicion of looting

Three elderly people drowned when their retirement home in Biot, near the city of Antibes, was flooded.

Visiting the home on Sunday, President Hollande offered his condolences and urged residents to remain cautious, saying: "It's not over."

Hundreds of volunteers have been helping clear debris and clean homes affected.

"We have lived through an apocalyptic situation that we have never experienced before," Eric Ciotti, president of the Alpes-Maritimes department, tweeted following the disaster.

Forecaster fallout

Mr Ciotti also questioned the use of an orange alert to warn residents, rather than the more serious red alert.

Christian Estrosi, the deputy mayor of Nice, added his criticism in an interview with BFMTV on Monday, saying the area received so many orange alerts that people had stopped taking all the necessary precautions.

But he denied any fallout with weather forecasters, who insisted they did not have the technical ability to predict the intensity of the storms in time.

Thousands of homes remained without electricity on Monday morning following the floods.

Meanwhile Bernard Giampaolo, director of the Marineland amusement park in Antibes, said three loggerhead turtles were still missing after the enclosures were hit.

He told Nice Matin newspaper (in French) that polar bears, orcas and dolphins had survived, although the park was still without power.

Chickens, goats and sheep had been washed away, the newspaper reported.

Tuesday 6 October 2015


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Guatemala landslide: Death toll rises to 131 with as many as 300 potentially still missing days after disaster

The number of people killed by the deadly landslide that hit a Guatemalan city has risen to 131, authorities said, with potentially 300 more people still missing three days after the disaster.

An estimated 125 homes were buried in El Cambray, a village on the outskirts of the capital, Guatemala City, when a 300ft hillside collapsed and covered an area of four acres with mud and dirt around 14 metres deep.

Rescue workers continued to pull corpses from the mud on Sunday as families began to bury their dead in the overcrowded local cemetery.

A funeral procession for the son and grandaughter of 59-year-old carpenter and painter Ismael Estrada saw 200 people walking through the streets to the cemetary. Estrada returned to the improvised morgue immediately after the service to search for his 19 family members that are still missing.

No survivors have been found this weekend despite the efforts of around 1,800 rescue workers sifting through the rubble.

An improvised morgue has been set up and municipal medical examiner Dr Carlos Augusto Rodas Gonzalez said 86 bodies have been identified and handed over to relatives, 26 of which were children and teenagers. Some bodies were found in pieces however, and many remain unidentified.

Authorities have estimated that 300 people are still missing, but admitted that many people may have fled the area and taken refuge elsewhere or with relatives without informing rescue teams, or that they were simply not in their homes when the mudslide hit.

Reuters news agency reports the number of missing is closer to 150 claiming authorities issued a sharp revision after recalculating the local population, however the official number remains unknown.

Authorities are now preparing to use heavy machinery to search the disaster area instead of digging by hand and listening for survivors, after rescuers reported that the buried homes they were searching have been filled with water.

Around 90 per cent of the search for bodies will now be carried out with backhoes and bulldozers said services coordinator Sergio Cabanas, who explained that rescuers will mainly be sent out on foot to recover a corpse that has been turned up by the machinery.

“The people who could have been alive have drowned,” he said.

In the neighbourhood cemetery 36 new crypts have already been created, though the identification process of bodies has changed rapidly – bodies have reportedly become unrecognisable due to being buried in mud and water for three days, causing volunteers and workers in the makeshift morgue to rely on fingerprints and DNA tests to identify the dead.

“With whatever measure we have, any human remain that we receive, we will make every effort to give it a first and last name,” Dr Gonzales said.

Tuesday 6 October 2015


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7 more bodies recovered from Pandoh Dam in Mandi, two months after bus disaster

Seven more bodies were recovered today from the Pandoh Dam in Mandi district. Eight bodies were recovered yesterday from the Larji Dam in Kullu district during a flushing out operation.

However, six of the eight bodies have been identified by relatives of pilgrims of the Manikaran bus mishap. A private bus carrying 69 pilgrims from Punjab had plunged into the Parbati river near Sarari on the Bhuntar-Manikaran road in Kullu district on July 23.

The police said seven bodies were found floating in the Pandoh Dam. They said the bodies might have reached the dam after a desilting operation was carried out in the Larji Dam yesterday.

Kullu SDM Rohit Rathore said seven more bodies were recovered from the Pandoh Dam. He said relatives of the victims had already been informed and many had arrived to identify the bodies. The SDM said the bodies had been brought to regional hospital, Kullu, as these could be of the remaining 17 missing pilgrims. He said an ex gratia of Rs 25,000 had been given to the family members of the identified victims as immediate relief.

Gill said relatives of other missing pilgrims had been informed while the bodies had been handed over to their relatives by the hospital authorities after the post-mortem examination.

However, nine more bodies recovered in the past two days remained unidentified.

An intensive rescue operation was carried out by over nearly 600 personnel of the National Disaster Response Force, Shastra Seema Bal, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Home Guards and the police to trace the missing persons.

Tuesday 6 October 2015


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