Saturday, 6 April 2013

Anniversary of the deadliest submarine disaster in U.S. history; sinking of the USS Thresher

It was a radio transmission 50 years ago that first alerted Norman Bower to the trouble on board the USS Thresher.

It was April 10, 1963, and U.S. Navy ships had lost contact with the nuclear-powered submarine. Bower, who was serving as chief of the USS Albacore at the time, remembered hearing radio chatter about the Thresher’s disappearance.

His thoughts jumped to the fate of the crew, a group of 129 men that included three former shipmates. Among them was Wayne Lavoie, a father of five from Gonic.

Bower remembers it was another 16 or 20 hours before the Navy officially announced the ship had plummeted to the ocean floor, taking the crew members with it.

Now 77 and retired, Bower has worked over the years to help preserve the memory of the Thresher disaster. The tradition will continue this weekend, as Bower and hundreds of others gather on the Seacoast to reflect on the 50th anniversary of the ship’s sinking.

The Thresher catastrophe marked a turning point in the Navy’s safety operations. It also changed the trajectories of countless lives, including that of Peter Charron, of Rochester. Charron grew up never knowing his father, Robert Charron, a civilian sonar technician who perished on the ship. Peter Charron was 16 months old at the time.

Now 51, Charron said the circumstances of his father’s death propelled him toward his career in funeral services. As a high school sophomore, Charron decided to enter the field to help provide closure to other families in pain.

“I decided, ‘OK, I’m going to do for other people what dad couldn’t have,’” he said.

Charron will attend a memorial service at Portsmouth High School this afternoon with his 89-year-old mother, two sisters and two brothers. U.S. Submarine Veterans Incorporated Thresher Base, the group organizing the ceremony, anticipates that hundreds of surviving family members will be on hand.

The event is closed to the public, but the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System is planning to broadcast the event live on the Internet. The ceremony, which starts at 1 p.m., is expected to be viewable online at

A separate service will also take place in Kittery, Maine, on Sunday morning. The Thresher Memorial Project Group will dedicate a new 129-foot flagpole in the center of Memorial Circle to the victims. Ship’s bells will also ring every 10 seconds during the 9 a.m. ceremony.

The Thresher was the world’s most advanced fast attack submarine when it was commissioned in 1961. Built at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, and based in Groton, Conn., the ship featured a cigar-shaped hull and nuclear propulsion. The 278-foot-long submarine could travel underwater for long distances, and it could dive deeper than earlier submarines, enduring pressure at unforgiving depths. The Cold War-era vessel was also designed to be quieter to avoid detection.

The Thresher was conducting sea trials off the coast of New England with another ship when it sent a message at 9:13 a.m. stating, “We are experiencing minor difficulties, we have a positive up angle, and are attempting to blow. Will keep you informed.”

Only minutes later the other ship, the USS Skylark, received two garbled messages, followed by high energy, low frequency disturbance. The sound was the mangling of the ship, which had fallen below crush depth.

One hundred and twenty nine men perished, including crew members, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard officer observers, civilian workers and contractor technicians.

A special inquiry later determined the submarine likely sank due to a piping failure, loss of power and an inability to blow ballast tanks rapidly enough. An extensive search found the ship some 8,400 feet below the surface. The dead included 16 officers, 96 enlisted men, and 17 civilians.

For the families, the silver lining is that subs are now safer. The Navy accelerated safety improvements and created a program called “SUBSAFE,” an extensive series of design modifications, training and other improvements.

People involved in the SUBSAFE program are required to watch a documentary about the Thresher that ends with an actual underwater recording featuring the eerie sounds of metal creaking and bending as a U.S. Navy submarine breaks apart with the loss of all hands.

“It’s important because the real legacy of Thresher is the SUBSAFE program that the Navy initiated after the loss of Thresher, which has kept submarines and their crew safe since then,” said Lori Arsenault, of Gorham, Maine, whose father perished in the accident. “And the real important thing to understand 50 years later is the people making decisions are too young to remember that day, and so by consciously remembering it, we can keep working at making sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Arsenault’s father, Tilmon J. Arsenault, was a World War II veteran who served as chief engineman on the Thresher. Lori Arsenault says her father was her mentor, and he got her interested in music and technology. She is now director of operations and concert manager for the School of Music at the University of Southern Maine.

“I sort of got my passion for these things from him,” she said.

Arsenault was 8 at the time of her father’s death. She recalls that her mother learned of the tragedy while attending a PTA meeting at the local school in the evening.

“The families — the Navy was trying to contact the families throughout the day, so it was even late at night and they were still trying to contact my mom. She was at a PTA meeting, and then they finally found her at the school. She came home — she doesn’t remember the drive home — but she came home and we all huddled in the kitchen and cried.”

Barbara Currier, whose husband, Paul, was a civilian worker on the Thresher, was shopping with her daughters when she heard the news on the radio in a store. What followed was a blur of activity for her family. Navy officers in dress whites showed up on doorsteps. Friends and neighbors brought food.

After the submarine was declared sunk, President John F. Kennedy ordered the nation’s flags lowered to half-staff. International leaders sent condolences.

“The men, they were heroes. Most of them were doing what they wanted to do for their country to keep the country safe,” said Currier, 86, who never remarried and still lives in the same house in Exeter, N.H. “They were pushing things to the limit.”

Because of their tender ages, and the lack of a body or proper grave site, children like Vivian Lindstrom, who lost her father, Samuel Dabruzzi, a Navy electronics technician, were unable to grieve properly.

Thanks to the reunions, they at least know they’re not alone, said Lindstrom, of Glenwood City, Wis.

“We’ve experienced the same things, felt the same things,” she said. “We feel like family. We call ourselves the Thresher family.”Foster’s staff writer Jim Haddadin and David Sharp of The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Saturday 6 April 2013

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Death toll in Mumbai building collapse hits 72

Rescue workers on Saturday finished a two-day search for survivors in the collapse of a residential building being constructed illegally in India's financial capital. At least 72 people, 17 of them children, were killed.

Another 70 people were injured when the eight-story building on forest land in the Mumbai suburb of Thane caved in Thursday evening, police said. Thirty-six of the injured were still in city hospitals and the rest were discharged after medical treatment, said Sandeep Malvi, a spokesman for the local municipality. Many had head wounds, fractures and spinal injuries. Hospital officials searched in vain for the parents of an injured 10-month-old girl rescued from the rubble after 12 hours.

Rescue workers using sledgehammers, chain saws and hydraulic jacks worked through the mound of steel and concrete Friday night in their search for survivors, police officer Dahi Phale said. Six bulldozers were brought to the scene. Twenty bodies were recovered overnight and the rescue work ended at noon Saturday after 42 hours, the municipal spokesman Mr. Malvi said. Police with dogs were still searching.

Prithviraj Chavan, the top elected official of Maharashtra state, said that a government probe had been ordered, and that a deputy municipal commissioner and a senior police officer had been suspended for dereliction of duty.

At the time of the collapse, between 100 and 150 people were in the building. Many were residents or construction workers who were living at the site as they worked on it, the spokesman Mr. Malvi said.

Local police commissioner K.P. Raghuvanshi said rescue workers saved 15 people from the wreckage, including a woman who was rescued 36 hours after the accident.

At least four floors of the building had been completed and were occupied. Workers had finished three more floors and were adding the eighth when it collapsed, police Inspector Digamber Jangale said.

It wasn't immediately clear what caused the structure to collapse, but police commissioner Mr. Raghuvanshi said it was weakly built. Police were searching for the builders to arrest them, he said.

Building collapses are common in India as builders cut corners by using substandard materials, and as multistory structures are built with inadequate supervision. The massive demand for housing around India's cities and pervasive corruption often result in builders adding unauthorized floors or putting up illegal buildings. In one of the worst recent collapses, 67 people were killed in November 2010 when an apartment building in a congested New Delhi neighborhood crumpled. That building was two floors higher than legally allowed.

The neighborhood where the building collapsed was part of a belt of more than 2,000 illegal structures that had sprung up in the area in recent years, said Mr. Malvi, the municipal spokesman.

"Notices have been served several times for such illegal construction," he said. "Sometimes notices are sent 10 times for the same building."

The building that collapsed was illegally constructed on forest land, and the city informed forestry officials twice about it, Mr. Malvi said.

Saturday 6 April 2013

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New theories emerge into tragedy on board the ferry ‘Scandinavian Star'

Persons other than the truck driver accused of setting a fire on board the cruise ferry Scandinavian Star may have been responsible for the tragedy that killed 159 persons during a voyage from Oslo 23 years ago. New theories are emerging from a working group that’s conducted its own probe into the disaster.

The newly remodeled Scandinavian Star was sailing from Oslo to Frerikshavn in Denmark when fire broke out in the early morning hours of April 7, 1990. The fire broke out in international waters in the Skagerrak, and the smoldering vessel was later towed to Lysekil, Sweden. Of the 159 victims of the fire, 134 were Norwegians, nearly twice as many as those killed in the terrorist attacks of July 22, 2011.

Lack of closure

While those attacks have sparked massive investigations, memorials, the killer’s lengthy trial and compensation for victims, the Scandinavian Star tragedy has never resulted in any clear answers and some survivors still feel a lack of closure or justice. It was difficult to establish who actually owned the vessel at the time, even though two Danish shipowners and the vessel’s Norwegian captain were sentenced to jail terms for various offenses like deficiencies in fire alarm systems and testing. The vessel was later even repaired and put into service again in the Caribbean, but was scrapped in 2004.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Friday that a report due over the weekend suggests that several fires were actually set on board the vessel, after the accused arsonist had been killed by the fire himself. The working group made up of shipping experts from Skansen Consult AS, firefighters and arson investigators, also claims, according to NRK, that insurance fraud may have been involved.

Norwegian police at the time identified a 37-year-old Danish truck driver, earlier convicted of arson, as the arsonist. The case against him was dropped, however, because he also perished in the fire on board the car ferry.

Lack of willingness to investigate

Ingvar Brynfors of the fire brigade at Frölunda n Sweden was the first firefighter to be hoisted on to the smoldering ship after around 200 passengers had been rescued. NRK reported that he claims it would have been impossible for the Danish truck driver to have set the fatal fire. Brynfors doesn’t think the Norwegian police investigation was adequate, noting that he was never called in for questioning himself.

“I saw the various places where fires were set around the ship,” he told Sveriges Television (SVT). “I was only asked one question by Norwegian police and then he disappeared.”

A survivors’ group asked Norwegian authorities to reopen the investigation into the fire, but was turned down last year. The group has complained of a lack of willingness by the authorities to investigate, while circumstances around the tragedy have also been controversial, not least the unclear ownership details of the vessel.

Saturday 6 April 2013

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Nigeria: 110 die in multiple accidents on Benin-Lagos, Onitsha-Owerri roads

No fewer than 110 people died yesterday in multiple accidents on Benin-Lagos expressway and Onitsha-Owerri expressway. This is coming barely one week after 18 persons perished in an auto crash on Lokoja-Abuja road. In the Benin-Lagos expressway accident, over 80 persons were roasted to death in multiple accidents involving a trailer, tanker, luxury bus and other vehicles, while in the Onitsha-Owerri road accident about 30 people lost their lives when a trailer collided with two mini-buses at Ihiala.

Saturday Sun gathered that among the dead in the Benin-Lagos expressway accident are the driver of the trailer, his assistant and 57 passengers in the luxury bus and occupants of other vehicles affected. Three passengers of the luxury bus, who survived the accident, were badly burnt. According to eyewitness, the accident occurred at Ugbogui, near Ofosu, in Ovia South-West when a cement-laden trailer reportedly had a burst tyre and rammed into a petrol tanker carrying fuel. The fuel tanker had hit a fully loaded luxury bus, which burst into flames.

It was gathered that the spillage of petrol on the road had set other vehicles on fire, including commercial and private cars. About 20 other vehicles were burnt in the process. At the accident scene, there were charred bodies of the passengers in the carcass of the burnt luxury bus and other vehicles. Some passengers in other vehicles, who had got down, were seen shedding tears over the horrible death of the victims. The accident had caused a heavy traffic jam, as personnel of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) stopped vehicular movement on both sides of the expressway to avoid further disaster.

Confirming the story, an official of FRSC, who pleaded anonymity, explained that the trailer was coming from Lagos, while the tanker and luxury bus were travelling in the opposite direction. FRSC personnel and the police had mounted rescue operation at the scene of the accident. The injured were taken to a nearby hospital, while the road was being cleared to create a thoroughfare for vehicles. Also, firefighters, who later arrived the scene of the accident, battled to put out the fire caused by the explosion of the tanker.

A passenger, who was travelling to Lagos from the East, said they were stuck in traffic for close to four hours because of the accident. “We were in one spot for about four hours. Movement on both sides of the road was stopped by FRSC. We had to make a detour through a bush path, through villages to cross the scene of accident,” he said. In a related development, 30 persons lost their lives, while six others sustained various degrees of injury yesterday, when a trailer collided with two mini-buses at Ihiala, on Onitsha-Owerri expressway.

The two commuter buses, which were said to belong to Rivers State Transport Company, were heading for Onitsha from Port Harcourt when the accident occurred at Ihiala in Anambra State, along the ever-busy Onitsha/Owerri expressway, Anambra State. The trailer, it was gathered, was joining the expressway, after offloading crates of beer when the two buses rammed into it.

Thirty passengers died on the spot, while some others sustained injury. When Saturday Sun visited the scene, the vehicles involved in the accident were lying there, while officials of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and policemen were taking the dead to the morgue, while the injured were rushed to nearby hospitals. Commenting on the incident, Chairman of Ihiala branch of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Chief Emmanuel Egbunonu, expressed shock at the spate of auto accidents in the area.

He appealed to the Federal Government and the FRSC to help the communities along the expressway. He also advised motorists to always observe speed limits and traffic rules in order to minimise accidents on the road.

Saturday 6 April 2013

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Kenya: Search on for six Narok flood victims

KENYA Red Cross, Police, KWS rangers and the public are still searching for bodies of six victims who drowned in a river in Narok South District on Tuesday evening.

Four bodies have been recovered and taken to Narok District Hospital mortuary. Yesterday, Area MP Korei ole Lemein joined the searching rescue teams for the second day to comb the river banks.

The 7pm incident occurred after the Toyota G-touring car they were traveling in was swept away by raging floods at Entoroboni River which burst its bank.

Ten people including four children, four women and two men died on the spot while other six escaped. They were traveling to Nkareta trading after attending market day at Ololulunga town.

Narok county coordinator Ali Juma said the visibility and the water levels of the river have hampered rescue efforts. "After a grueling 12-hour search, we found the four bodies of victims and we are still doing what we can afford to get more bodies," said Juma.

He feared the bodies could have been washed hundreds of kilometres downstream adding they would not relent on the search until all residents are accounted for.

Juma asked residents to be on the lookout especially on the riverbanks and flood waters to avoid causing more catastrophes. "I am appealing to them not to underrate any water especially this time rains is pondering most parts of the country," he said.

Narok governor Samuel Tunai, who is attending governors' induction course in Naivasha, sent a message of condolence o the affected families.

He urged the government to send military and provisionally divers to assist in the search for more bodies. Tunai assured the bereaved families that his administration will help them during this time they have lost their loved ones.

The meteorological department has issued warnings to Kenyans that the current heavy rains and flash floods being experienced in most parts of the country will not subside any time soon.

So far, 18 people have been killed by floods and displacing thousands across the country since the heavy rains started.

Saturday 6 April 2013

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