Thursday, 13 March 2014

Malaysia jet search: India to deploy ships, aircraft and helicopters

India's defense ministry instructed the joint command on the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands to deploy ships, aircraft and helicopters to search for a missing Malaysian airliner, a command spokesman Harmeet Singh told Reuters.

The armed forces will hold a meeting to decide how to coordinate their search efforts with other countries, after which they will make deployments, a senior command officer said.

The Wall Street Journal reported that U S investigators probing the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet believe it may have flown for four hours after losing contact with air traffic controllers, .

If confirmed, the report would represent another dramatic twist in what is already one of the most baffling mysteries in modern aviation history — the fate of Flight MH370, which took off from Kuala Lumpur early on Saturday and dropped off civilian radar screens less than an hour into its flight to Beijing.

On the sixth day of the search, planes were sweeping an area of sea where Chinese satellite images had shown what could be debris, but had so far found no sign of the airliner.

The Wall Street Journal said US aviation investigators and national security officials believed the plane flew for a total of five hours, based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from the Boeing 777's engines as part of a standard monitoring program.

It raises the possibility that the plane, and the 239 people on board, could have flown on for an additional distance of about 2,200 miles (3,500 km), potentially reaching Pakistan, destinations in the Indian Ocean or Mongolia, the paper said.

A senior Malaysia Airlines official told Reuters that no such data existed, while a second official said he was unaware of it. A spokeswoman for engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce had no immediate comment.

Malaysia Airlines has said previously that the Rolls-Royce Trent engines stopped transmitting monitoring signals when contact with the plane was lost.

As frustration mounts over the failure to find any trace of the plane, China heaped pressure on Malaysia to improve coordination in the search. Around two-thirds of the people aboard the lost plane were Chinese.

Premier Li Keqiang, speaking at a news conference in Beijing, demanded that the "relevant party" step up coordination while China's civil aviation chief said he wanted a "smoother" flow of information from Malaysia, which has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the disaster.

Vietnamese and Malaysian planes scanned waters where a Chinese government agency website said a satellite had photographed three "suspicious floating objects" on Sunday. The location was close to where the plane lost contact with air traffic control.

Aircraft repeatedly circled the area over the South China Sea but were unable to detect any objects, said a Reuters journalist aboard one of the planes.

Thursday 13 March 2014

continue reading

How the search for Flight MH370 is run

The longer it takes, the harder it gets to find the lost Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

Spotting small objects floating on the surface of the water is a tough task after any air crash. But the more any debris has a chance to disperse, the greater the degree of difficulty in spotting it, even with sophisticated airborne search radars.

The search area has already been widened from the initial location south of Vietnam. The aircraft disappeared on Saturday during a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board.

Without a large dose of luck or detection of any of the emergency locator beacons from the aircraft, some of which should have automatically activated but seemingly didn’t, it may take months – even years – to locate the wreckage.

The international response

The Malaysian search teams have been joined by others from Australia, China, the US, Singapore, Vietnam, New Zealand, Indonesia and Thailand.

Such a massive international effort is maintained through conventions governed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), part of the United Nations.

All signatory countries maintain maritime search and rescue organisations that are able to swing into action rapidly in response to an emergency.

The conventions also allow countries in whose jurisdiction an incident occurs to call upon help from others. This allowed the Australian government to act quickly and send two Royal Australian Air Force Orion aircraft to the search effort.

Piecing together answers from a crash

When the aircraft is eventually located the recovery phase should begin fairly quickly, depending on its location and degree of difficulty.

If bodies are recovered, there will be the need to conduct post mortem examinations to determine the nature and cause of death. If the bodies of the flight crew are recovered, their examination may also shed valuable light on what may have happened in the cockpit that led to the crash.

In any wreckage recovery phase, an international collaboration may be necessary to make sure the right equipment is available to access the wreckage, and recover the flight recorders.

While many countries have capacity to analyse flight data, many do not. Some agencies, such as the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, have developed specialist expertise in this area and can provide assistance if requested.

Investigators may also attempt to “reconstruct” the aircraft from any wreckage. They will be looking for any signs or symptoms of pre-crash damage or failures not consistent with the overall damage pattern in evidence from the subsequent crash sequence.

This has been done in many past accidents to help establish the cause beyond doubt, including the Boeing 747 Pan Am 103 flight that exploded over Lockerbie in 1988.

That kind of reconstruction is particularly effective in cases of an internal explosion, because the outward bending of the aircraft skin in the area of the blast may be clearly evident – provided, of course, the sections of skin from around the blast area are recovered.

Who is responsible for the investigation?

Even in the investigation phase, international conventions under the ICAO dictate which state is responsible for the investigation and which others have the right to participate.

ICAO Annex 13 to the Convention on International Air Transportation makes the state where the accident occurs responsible for the conduct of an investigation. This will not be known until the aircraft is discovered.

Where the accident occurs in international waters, the responsibility to mount an investigation rests with the State of Registry of the aircraft, which is Malaysia in the case of flight MH370. Other nearby states are required to provide assistance where possible.

Annex 13 also grants rights to others to participate in the investigation of aircraft accidents. They include the state of registry, the state of the operator and the state of design and the state of manufacture.

Each representative will have full access to all the facts and data collected as part of the investigation, including rights to examine the wreckage, obtain witness information, suggest areas of questioning and make submissions about various elements of the investigation.

Other states can ask to have representatives participate, especially where there is a significant interest, such as where a state might have a lot of the same aircraft type on its register. These requests are generally granted.

Making it safer

The aim of these international conventions is to make sure that – where possible – lessons are learnt from the investigation into accidents, regardless of where they occur. They also allow for any changes to be made to prevent similar accidents from happening again.

The conventions are a vital component of aviation safety and without them an already difficult post-accident situation would be rendered completely chaotic.

The secrets to what actually happened to flight MH370 are locked in the plane’s flight recorders, so let’s hope they’re found before too long so their story can be revealed.

Only that will start the closure and healing of those close to this incident, and provide vital lessons for the rest of us to learn.

Thursday 13 March 2014

continue reading

Searching for Central American migrants who disappeared in Mexico

Guatemalan Arturo Reyes remains forever haunted by what happened on one fateful day in February 2011, when he learned just how dangerous – and deadly – a northern trek across Mexico can be for those searching for a better life.

He was among 75 Central American migrants who were forced at gunpoint to get off a train known as “La Bestia” (The Beast) in Boca de Cerro in the state of Tabasco. Their journey toward the U.S. was over – and it was about to get worse, much, much worse.

“They robbed us, beat us and raped two young women and a boy. Anyone who tried to escape was killed right in front of our eyes,” Reyes, 23, recalled while telling his story to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) at an immigration station in Tabasco.

The kidnappers demanded a US$4,500 ransom from the families for each hostage. Four days into the kidnapping, an Army unit forced the abductors to flee the safe house, freeing the hostages.

“I was going to the United States to look for a job and a better life, but now I can’t forget the smell of blood and death,” he said. “We got out, yes, but we were broken.”

But the terror that happened to Reyes, who eventually returned to Guatemala, is commonly experienced by migrants, who often are raped, beaten and killed – generally by cartels and organized crime groups – during their journey.

From 2006 to 2013, 120,000 migrants disappeared while travelling through Mexico. In 2012 alone, 11,000 migrants were kidnapped, according to the NHRC.

According to the National Migration Institute (INM), 171,000 undocumented migrants entered Mexico in 2013, 95% of them from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Faced with this situation, civil society organizations such as Mexico’s Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano (Mesoamerican Migrant Movement), El Salvador’s Committee of Families of Missing and Dead Migrants and Honduras’ Committee of El Progreso Families of Missing Migrants are searching for their relatives in caravans travelling the length of the migrants’ route from Central America to Mexico.

“We have travelled in caravans from Nicaragua to the northern Mexican border. We visit prisons, morgues, shelters and hospitals,” said Marta Sánchez Soler, coordinator of Caravana de Madres de Migrantes Centroamericanos Desaparecidos (Caravan of Mothers of Missing Central American Migrants).

“In 2013, we visited 26 towns in 15 Mexican states,” she added. “We travelled 3,958 kilometers and had some very good results: We located 12 people.”

Honduran María Ángeles de los Santos Ávila, 74, joined Caravana de Madres de Migrantes Centroamericanos Desaparecidos in 2013, hoping to finding her son, José Armando, who disappeared soon after leaving Honduras in 1994.

The Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano finally made telephone contact with José Armando in mid-2013 and reunited him with María Ángeles on Dec. 5, 2013 in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí. He had been living in Matamoros in the northern state of Tamaulipas for 20 years and had been unable to contact his family despite repeated attempts.

“I couldn’t believe the moment I had longed for so much had arrived, after thinking my son was no longer alive,” María Ángeles said. “Now, I can live in peace again.”

Sánchez Soler said Caravana de Madres de Migrantes Centroamericanos has located more than 200 missing persons since the first of nine caravans started searching in 2006.

“These movements are beneficial to the federal government because they help us coordinate efforts and create regional mechanisms for locating missing people,” INM Director of Outreach and Migrant Protection Ana Cecilia Oliva Balcárcel said.

At the 2013 Regional Conference on Migration held in Costa Rica and attended by representatives from the United States, Canada, Central American countries and the Dominican Republic, Mexico signed an agreement to create a joint database with information about missing migrants.

“This is a very important step,” Oliva Balcárcel said. “It’s the beginning of a coordinated effort by governments and civil organizations to locate the missing.”

Thomas Lothar Weiss, the International Organization for Migration chief of mission in Mexico, said these cooperation agreements are important “because of the joint responsibility among countries in the region to strengthen and improve migrant safety.”

In August 2013, the Mexican Office of the Attorney General created a forensic analysis commission, which includes the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team and civil society organizations from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, to examine human remains found in hidden graves in the states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León.

In December, the commission reported on the forensic analysis of 49 bodies found in May 2012 in Cadereyta Jiménez in Nuevo León. Eight bodies were determined to be those of Honduran migrants.

The other bodies have yet to be identified.

“[The caravans] have forced the Mexican government to recognize that thousands of migrants have disappeared,” Institute for Women in Migration Director Gretchen Kuhner said. “The government has an obligation to assist in the examination and identification of bodies found in hidden graves.”

More protection

At the same time, the Mexican government is increasing the protection of migrants. During the first two months of the year, authorities in the state of Chiapas rescued 1,438 victims of criminal organizations allegedly extorting migrants, according to a joint press release by the INM, the National Defense Secretariat and the Mexican Navy.

The operation also led to the arrests of 74 suspects in connection with being part of a human-trafficking network.

“Mexico offers free repatriation for rescued migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras, with the utmost respect for their human rights, and provides legal, medical and psychological aid when needed,” Oliva Balcárcel said.

In 2013, authorities repatriated 69,481 migrants to their respective countries after repatriating 62,839 migrants in 2012, according to INM.

Meanwhile, the mothers of missing migrants’ organizations and civil society continue their efforts.

“Our work will continue as long as the problem remains,” Sánchez Soler said. “We follow clues all year from telephone records and migrants’ testimony, trying to locate missing persons and bring back a little joy to the families who have suffered so much.”

Thursday 13 March 2014

continue reading

Andalucia to look for missing victims of Franco

Authorities in Andalucia are to step up the search for the remains of people who went missing during the civil war.

The state will be able to temporarily expropriate land in cases where its owner does not allow a search for a mass grave on the property, under a draft law presented by the regional government.

An estimated 60,000 people went missing in Andalucia during the war, between 1936 and 1939.

The draft law of “democratic memory” also stipulates that statues, street names and other public symbols honouring Franco and his dictatorship, which ran until his death in 1975, be removed within 18 months.

The move furthers that of a law passed in 2007, which requires reminents of the regime be destroyed, but set no time table.

Right wing local authorities have resisted attempts by campaigners to force them to comply with the legislation.

Andalucia argues the measures in its draft law have the backing of the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearance, which last year recommended Spain uncover the fates of victims of Franco.

Around 114,000 bodies of people killed during the civil war and Franco’s four-decade rule are thought to lie in mass graves around Spain.

Thursday 13 March 2014

continue reading

Recovering plane wreckage from water an arduous task

When planes crash into water, it can take days to find the "black boxes" that record information about the flight — even when the plunge is witnessed, according to four plane crash investigations before the latest search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

And once the wreckage is recovered, the investigation following can then take years.

In a more difficult case, it took two years to find the flight recorders after the 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean, and months more to recover parts of the plane. The difficulties came even though the plane went down within a few miles of its last signal.

"You start with the last place you know where the airplane was and widen out from there," said William Waldock, who formerly worked in Coast Guard search and rescue and now teaches safety science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona. "It should have been right over the Gulf of Thailand where it started."

He was surprised that Vietnam's fairly sophisticated radar wasn't able to track the plane or its debris all the way to the water.

"For them not to be able to be able to track it to the surface, I just find that astounding," Waldock said.

Even when the crash is witnessed, such as the TWA explosion in 1996, the search can be difficult because debris can spread in the air on the way down or in the water's current.

"When it hits water, it's not like a brick wall, not a solid and it starts breaking up more," said Al Yurman, a former investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board. "It rips things apart."

He suggested the Gulf of Thailand, where the search has focused since the Malaysia flight disappeared early Saturday, is a large area to cover.

"It could take them any amount of time more before they find anything," Yurman said.

Following are the results of four plane crashes that illustrate the difficulties of a water recovery:

Trans World Airlines Flight 800, a Boeing 747-131, from New York's JFK airport to Paris broke up over the Atlantic Ocean near East Moriches, Long Island, on July 17, 1996, killing 230 people on board. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigated.

The search: The plane broke up and fell into the ocean about 8:30 p.m., with witnesses on shore witnessing the flash. Pieces of wreckage were found along a path 4 miles long and 3.5 miles wide. Remote-operated vehicles and divers were used to recover victims and wreckage. The recovery took 10 months and retrieved more than 95% of the plane.

The black boxes were recovered July 24, 1996. Although the recorders were damaged in the crash, they yielded "data of good quality."

The investigation concluded Aug. 23, 2000. The NTSB ruled that the center fuel tank exploded, likely from a short-circuit in nearby wiring.

SilkAir Flight 185 from Jakarta, Indonesia, to Singapore crashed Dec. 19, 1997, in the Musi River in Indonesia, killing 104 people aboard. Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee investigated.

The search: The Boeing 737-300 crashed about 4 p.m. and wreckage penetrated deep into the river bed, although parts of the plane were found nearly 2½ miles away. About 73% of the plane was recovered, most from an area in the river 196 feet by roughly 262 feet. The river was about 26 feet deep at that location. Recovery was difficult for Indonesia and Singapore navy divers because of the river current and because much of the wreckage was buried. Only six human remains were recovered at the site. Recovery of the wreckage was completed Jan. 28, 1998.

The flight-data recorder was recovered by divers on Dec. 24 and the cockpit-voice recorder by river dredging on Jan. 8, 1998. But the black boxes had been turned off before the plane's descent from 35,000 feet.

The investigation was concluded Dec. 14, 2000. The NTSC found no mechanical failure to explain the crash and ruled that the plane was probably steered to the ground from the cockpit. A California jury hearing a case about the crash later ruled that the plane's rudder malfunctioned and forced the plane into the ground.

EgyptAir Flight 990 from New York's JFK airport to Cairo crashed Oct. 31, 1999, about 60 miles south of Nantucket, killing 217 people aboard. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigated, at Egypt's request.

The search: The Boeing 767-366ER crashed about 1:50 a.m. and debris was found in two fields. The initial recovery effort lasted from Oct. 31 to Dec. 22, when about 70% of the plane was recovered. A second recovery to gather more material occurred March 29 to April 1, 2000.

The Navy found the flight-data recorder Nov. 9 and the cockpit-voice recorder Nov. 14. Both recorders were damaged in the crash and their tapes were wet when found, but the tapes were in otherwise good condition and investigators were able to retrieve information from them.

The investigation was concluded March 13, 2002. The NTSB found no problems with the plane and ruled that a relief pilot steered the plane into the ocean for unknown reasons.

Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil on June 1, 2009, killing 228 people on board. . The Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses investigated.

The search: French and Brazilian navies found floating debris from the Airbus A330-203 between June 6 and 26, but the search for the plane took years longer in four phases. The third unsuccessful phase spanned 2,400 square miles of ocean in April and May 2010. The wreckage was finally located about 12,800 feet deep on April 2, 2011, during the fourth phase from March 23 to April 12, 2011, about 6.5 nautical miles from its last known signal. Ultimately 104 bodies and parts of the plane were recovered by June 16, 2011.

The flight-data recorder was recovered May 1, 2011, and the cockpit-voice recorder the next day. Parts of the memory boards were damaged, which investigators tried to repair, but some data was missing.

The investigation concluded July 27, 2012. The BEA concluded that the plane's airspeed indicators froze during a storm and surprised pilots, who mistakenly pulled the aircraft into an aerodynamic stall and fell into the ocean.

Thursday 13 March 2014

continue reading

China belatedly reports 31 dead in tunnel blast

The death toll from a little-reported road explosion was disclosed Thursday to be a much higher 31, nearly two weeks after the blast shook a highway tunnel in northwestern China.

The city government of Jincheng in Shaanxi province said a team assembled by the State Council to investigate the blast met Thursday in the city to brief on the latest developments. It said another nine people were missing.

The city statement came minutes after China concluded its annual meeting of its ceremonial congress in Beijing, raising questions if the case had been purposely given little attention to avoid disruption to the convention.

The crash March 1 involved more than 40 vehicles, including those carrying hazardous materials, and a fire burned for three days. But the scant news coverage largely ceased on March 5, the day when China's ceremonial legislative body — the National People's Congress — opened in Beijing for its annual meeting.

There is no official explanation for the lack of attention to the tunnel crash, but it would be consistent with China's heightened efforts to ensure social stability when the congress was in session by playing down what the authorities deem as negative news.

Also, senior government officials were in Beijing for the congress, leaving a temporary leadership vacuum in local governments.

Xinhua News Agency said two tankers loaded with the flammable methanol collided inside the Yanhou Tunnel on a highway in Shaanxi province, causing a blast and setting fire to coal trucks in the traffic.

The March 5 report by Xinhua said 13 people were dead, another 11 injured, and 42 vehicles destroyed in the fire that burned more than 1,500 tons of coal over 73 hours. An update on Tuesday said the death toll had increased from 13 to 16.

Xinhua said it had been extremely challenging to identify victims, because many bodies were carbonized in the blaze.

The official microblog by a local highway battalion made no mention of the deadly crash but on March 5 posted a notice by the provincial government that bans hazardous chemicals from all highways in the province for one year.

Thursday 13 March 2014

Read more here:

continue reading

Death toll rises after explosion makes two buildings collapse in Harlem

A major explosion caused by a gas leak flattened two Manhattan apartment buildings in a fireball on Wednesday, killing at least five people and injuring 63 others.

The new, fifth fatality was a body pulled from the rubble, the fire department said tonight, CNN and other news outlets reported.

A tenant said residents had complained repeatedly in recent weeks about “unbearable” gas smells, CBS News reported.

The fourth body, an adult male, was pulled from the rubble by rescue workers searching for victims amid the broken bricks, splintered wood and mangled metal after firefighters spent most of the day dousing the flames.

Heavy equipment, including backhoes and a bulldozer, arrived to clear the mountain of debris where the two five-story East Harlem buildings stood. Flood lights were in place.

Thermal imaging cameras were at the ready to identify heat spots — bodies or pockets of fire.

This afternoon, the names of two people who died in the explosion were released.

Griselde Camacho, public safety officer at a public Manhattan college, and Carmen Tanco, a dental hygienist, died in the blast, authorities said.

Sgt. Camacho worked at Hunter College and was assigned to the Silberman School of Social Work building, located at 119th Street and Third Avenue, according to the school.

In a statement, Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab said, “Griselde was a well-liked member of our community, a respected officer and a welcoming presence at our Silberman building. Our deepest sympathies go out to her family, and we are committed to doing everything we can to support them in their time of great emotional need.”

The school says it is planning to hold a memorial for Camacho.

A faculty member at Hunter told NBC 4 New York Camacho was dedicated to her job.

Across the street from where she worked, a deli worker said the officer always had a smile on her face when came into the store.

Tanco, 67, was in her Park Avenue apartment in Harlem at the time of the explosion, according to News 12, where a cousin of Tanco works as a cameraman.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the incident “a tragedy of the worst kind’’ and warned a number of people were still unaccounted for, raising fears of possible further losses.

One tenant said residents had complained repeatedly in recent weeks about “unbearable’’ gas smells.

Smoke billowed above the city’s skyline, and sidewalks in Manhattan’s Harlem section were

littered with broken glass from shattered storefront and apartment windows.

Witnesses said the explosion — which happened late last night Australian time — was so powerful it knocked groceries off store shelves and sent people running into the streets.

“There’s nothing left,’’ said Eusebio Perez, 48, who lived in one of the buildings and rushed home from work as soon as he heard the news.

“Just a bunch of bricks and wood.’’ He added: “I only have what I’m wearing.’’

The White House issued a statement offering “thoughts and prayers’’ and commending first responders. Mayor Bill de Blasio rushed to the scene and said some of those unaccounted for might have fled to safety.

The blast occurred around 9.30am local time, about 15 minutes after a nearby resident reported smelling gas, authorities said.

The gas utility ConEd said it immediately sent workers to check out the report, but they arrived too late.

Police said two women were killed. One of those hurt was reported in critical condition with head injuries. A third victim has since been located.

Four different New York hospitals said they treated a total of 63 patients, the vast majority with minor injuries.

There were 15 apartments in the two buildings that collapsed.

Fire officials said more than a dozen people were unaccounted for, but cautioned that some may not have been in the building.

Hours after the blast, firefighters were still dousing the flames with water, and rescue workers had yet to venture into the debris to search for victims.

“It felt like an earthquake had rattled my whole building,’’ said Waldemar Infante, a porter who was working in a basement nearby.

A tenant in one of the destroyed buildings, Ruben Borrero, said residents had complained to the landlord about the smell of gas as recently as Tuesday.

Borrero said city fire officials were called a few weeks ago about the odour, which he said was so bad that a tenant on the top floor broke open the door to the roof for ventilation.

The Fire Department said it was checking its records to see if it had responded to any gas complaints at the building. Con Ed spokesman Bob McGee said a preliminary review by the utility found no record of any calls from tenants of the buildings about gas leaks before Wednesday.

ConEd’s McGee said a resident from a building next to the two that were destroyed had reported smelling gas inside his apartment and thought the odour might be coming from outside. The utility dispatched two crews two minutes after the 9.15am call came in, McGee said.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it is sending a team to investigate. The agency investigates pipeline accidents in addition to transportation disasters.

The tragedy brought the neighbourhood to a standstill as police set up barricades to keep residents away. Thick, acrid smoke caused people’s eyes to water. Some wore surgical masks, while others held their hands or scarfs over their faces.

One of the side-by-side buildings had a piano store on the first floor, the other a storefront church. Building Department records don’t show any work in progress at either address, but the building with the church had obtained permits to install new gas pipes in June.

The Metro-North commuter railroad, which serves 280,000 riders a day in New York and Connecticut, suspended all service to and from Grand Central for much of the day while the debris was removed from its tracks, the structural integrity of the elevated structure was checked, and test trains were run past the explosion site to see if vibrations would endanger the rescue effort. Service resumed late in the afternoon.

Thursday 13 March 2014

continue reading