Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Italy Saves 970 Migrants Abandoned By Smmuglers

The Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M carrying hundreds of migrants arrives at the southern Italian port of Gallipoli, some 170 kilometers (108 miles) south of Bari, Italy, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014. Italian authorities took control Tuesday of a cargo ship carrying hundreds of migrants after the crew disappeared and set it on a programmed route to crash into a coast, officials said. The alarm was first raised about the Blue Sky M after a passenger sent a distress call earlier Tuesday when the ship was off Greece. The operation came two days after a Greek-operated ferry caught fire between Greece and Italy with the loss of at least 11 lives, prompting a two-day search and rescue effort.


ROME (AP) — The Italian Coast Guard rescued 970 migrants Wednesday after smugglers put their cargo ship on automatic pilot heading straight for a crash into the Italian coast and abandoned the command.
The Coast Guard officials said the migrants, most believed to be Syrians and including many children and pregnant women, arrived safely in Gallipoli, in Italy's southeastern Puglia region, before dawn Wednesday. More than 100 migrants were treated for hypothermia.
"It was a race against time," said Coast Guard Cmdr. Filippo Marini. "The ship was only a few (nautical) miles away from the coast of Puglia" on Tuesday night when six Coast Guard officials were lowered by helicopter onto the bridge of the Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M to try to correct the ship's course.
Marini said the smugglers apparently had left the engine blocked on automatic pilot at a speed of 6 knots (nearly 7 mph) into the coast. "There would have been death and destruction" if the vessel had crashed into the coast, he added.
Because a storm was churning up the Adriatic Sea, rescuers couldn't board the ship from nearby Coast Guard vessels. But once on board they unblocked the engine and steered the vessel safely into Gallipoli's harbor, Marini said.
The Coast Guard traced the ship's location after a passenger made a satellite phone call seeking help. It was not clear what port the ship had left from. To avoid capture, smugglers frequently abandon migrants at sea, sometimes overturning the passengers' unseaworthy boats, according to survivors. This year alone, well over 100,000 migrants were rescued at sea by Italy. Hundreds drowned in the attempt.
Asked how the smugglers could flee given the stormy seas, Marini said the migrants were being interviewed to see if the smugglers might be mingled among them.
Follow Frances D'Emilio on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Rains Fuel California Mushroom Boom

Ing mushrooms growing near the foot of a tree in the front yard of a home in the Beverly Hills section of Los Angeles. Recent heavy rains have brought a mushroom boom to parts of California. Lands parched by a three-year drought just a few months ago are now seeing an explosion of both poisonous and edible mushrooms in California.


SONOMA, CALIF. (AP) — Recent heavy rains have brought a mushroom boom to parts of California.
The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat (http://bit.ly/14awdeP ) reports that lands parched by a three-year drought just a few months ago are now seeing an explosion of both poisonous and edible mushrooms after about 2 feet of rain saturated grassy hillsides and swelled streams in Sonoma County.
It has been especially fruitful that the rains have been mixed with mushroom-friendly warm weather. Darvin DeShazer of the Sonoma County Mycological Association says the fungi are "popping out of the ground everywhere right now."
The bloom has brought a mushroom boom to restaurant menus, farmers markets and foraging classes around the region.
Information from: The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, http://www.pressdemocrat.com

For Obama, Reunion With Pals A Link To Simpler Times

Then-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., second from right, walks with Bobby Titcomb, second from left, and Greg Orme right after throwing a lei in the Pacific Ocean at the point where he scattered his mother's ashes in Honolulu, Hawaii. Since returning to his childhood home this month on vacation, President Barack Obama has spent nearly every day cloistered with three people whose company puts him at ease. It’s not his wife and daughters, who came with him, but a trio of pals whose friendship dates back to Obama’s high school days in Hawaii.


HONOLULU (AP) — Since returning to his childhood home this month on vacation, President Barack Obama has spent a good part of most days cloistered with three people whose company puts him at ease. They're not his wife and daughters, who came with him, but a trio of pals whose friendship dates back to Obama's high school days in Hawaii.
The three men — Mike Ramos, Bobby Titcomb and Greg Orme — are among the few people still in Obama's life who knew him long before he was famous. Although their paths have long since diverged, they've made it a point to gather for frequent reunions, in one of Obama's most visible links to the days when his life was much simpler and his problems more mundane.
On this visit alone, Obama has spent more than 22 hours with the group on the lush golf courses that dot the island of Oahu. When it rained, Obama and his pals went bowling, instead. And on Tuesday, in what's become a yearly tradition, the men and their families gathered for a luau hosted by Titcomb. With rain drizzling over Oahu, Obama's motorcade whisked Obama across the island to Titcomb's beachside home in Waialua, about an hour outside of Honolulu on the North Shore.
Increasingly, the reunions have become the focal point of Obama's family vacation in his second term as his teenage daughters spend less and less time at their father's side. Once content to join their parents for outings to the aquarium or to get shave ice, Sasha and Malia are now more independent. Since arriving more than a week ago, Obama has been out in public with one of his daughters only once, briefly, during a hike.
What Obama and his companions talk about during their many hours alone is anyone's guess. But the foursome rarely goes more than a few months without reconvening in one arrangement or another. In August, Obama kicked off his 53rd birthday weekend golfing with the three friends in suburban Maryland before heading to Camp David, the presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains.
All four were classmates at Punahou School in Honolulu, which Obama has described as "a prestigious prep school, an incubator for island elites." In his memoir, "Dreams From My Father," Obama recalled a high school career that was, for the most part, ordinary — "marginal report cards and calls to the principal's office; part-time jobs at the burger chain; acne and driving tests and turbulent desire."
"I'd made my share of friends at school, gone on the occasional awkward date," Obama wrote. "And if I sometimes puzzled over the mysterious realignments of status that took place among my classmates, as some rose and others fell depending on the whims of their bodies or the make of their cars, I took comfort in the knowledge that my own position had steadily improved."
Far less is known about Obama's buddies, of course, than about the president himself. All three live mostly private lives when they're not being photographed with the commander in chief. Ramos, who graduated from Punahou in 1978, bonded with Obama over their mutual affinity for jazz. He's lived in Colorado, but was listed as a North Carolina resident when in 2012 he attended a state dinner at the White House that Obama held for British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Titcomb, who golfed another two days with Obama this month before the others got into town, was a year behind Obama at Punahou. Titcomb has worked as a commercial fisherman and an airline employee, according to the school's alumni magazine. In 2011, he pleaded no contest to soliciting a prostitute, but Obama has stayed fiercely loyal to his childhood friend.
Obama played basketball at Punahou with Orme, who the alumni magazine says is now a building contractor. Aging photos show Obama and Orme decked out in 1970s fashion with their dates before attending a high school prom.
Among U.S. presidents, Obama is not alone in carving out time regularly to reconnect with his roots. Franklin D. Roosevelt made frequent trips back to Hyde Park, N.Y., throwing picnics or barbecues for former neighbors and friends, and George H.W. Bush remained pals with men he served with in World War II.
In the second term, presidents have often sought refuge from the pressure by disappearing into nature to fish or hunt, said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. But such solitude has become less and less attainable for presidents in modern times.
"Many people call Obama aloof, and he hasn't made a lot of friends in Washington," Brinkley said. "When you're president, everybody wants something from you and only these types of friends are able to simply want your well-being. They have a different level of affection for you than friends you meet later in life."
Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

Official: 6 Bodies Recovered From AirAsia Crash

rescuer is lowered on rope from a hovering helicopter near a body in Java Sea waters, Indonesia Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014. Indonesian officials on Tuesday spotted six bodies from the AirAsia flight that disappeared two days earlier, and recovered three of them, in a painful end to the aviation mystery off the coast of Borneo island.


PANGKALAN BUN, INDONESIA (AP) — A massive hunt for the 162 victims of AirAsia Flight 8501 resumed in the Java Sea on Wednesday, with the recovery of six bodies, including a flight attendant identified by her trademark red uniform. But wind, strong currents and high surf hampered recovery efforts as distraught family members anxiously waited to identify their loved ones.
Three bodies were retrieved Tuesday, while the others were found after the search resumed Wednesday morning, said Indonesia's Search and Rescue Agency chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo. On Tuesday, the number had varied with different officials saying as many as six corpses had been discovered.
He said half of those found were male and half female, including the flight attendant. He added that underwater sonar identified what appeared to be large parts of the plane. The first proof of the jet's fate emerged Tuesday in an area not far from where it dropped off radar screens on Sunday morning. Searchers found the bodies and debris that included a life jacket, an emergency exit door and a suitcase about 10 miles from the plane's last known coordinates.
On Wednesday, divers were deployed, but heavy rain and clouds grounded helicopters, said Soelistyo. The airliner's disappearance halfway through a two-hour flight between Surabaya, Indonesia, and Singapore triggered an international search for the aircraft involving dozens of planes, ships and helicopters. It is still unclear what brought the plane down.
The plane needs to be located and its cockpit voice and flight data recorders, or black boxes, recovered before officials can start determining what caused the crash. Images of the debris and a bloated body shown on Indonesian television sent a spasm of anguish through the room at the Surabaya airport where relatives awaited news. Some have given blood for DNA tests and submitted photos of their loved ones along with identifying information, such as tattoos or birth marks that could help make the process easier.
The first sign of the jet turned up about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from its last known coordinates. Parts of the interior, including the oxygen tank, were brought to the nearest town, Pangkalan Bun. Another find included a bright blue plastic suitcase, completely unscratched.
"I know the plane has crashed, but I cannot believe my brother and his family are dead," said Ifan Joko, who lost seven family members, three of them children, as they traveled to Singapore to ring in the new year. "We still pray they are alive."
The corpses were spotted about 160 kilometers (100 miles) from Central Kalimantan province. Rescue workers descended on ropes from a hovering helicopter to retrieve bodies. Efforts were hindered by 2-meter (6-foot) waves and strong winds, National Search and Rescue Director SB Supriyadi said.
The first body was later picked up by a navy ship. Officials said as many as six others followed, but they disagreed about the exact number. Supriyadi was on the aircraft and saw what appeared to be more wreckage under the water, which was clear and a relatively shallow 20 to 30 meters (65 to 100 feet).
When TV broadcast an image of a half-naked man floating in the water, a shirt partially covering his head, many of the family members screamed and wailed uncontrollably. One middle-aged man collapsed and had to be carried out on a stretcher.
About 125 family members had planned to travel to Pangkalan Bun to start identifying their loved ones, but Surabaya airport general manager Trikora Hardjo later said the trip was canceled after authorities suggested they stay to avoid slowing down the operation. Body bags and coffins have been prepared at three hospitals in Pangkalan Bun. Dozens of elite military divers also joined the search.
Malaysia-based AirAsia's loss comes on top of the still-unsolved disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March with 239 people aboard, and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July over Ukraine, which killed all 298 passengers and crew.
Nearly all the passengers and crew were Indonesians, who are frequent visitors to Singapore, particularly on holidays. Haidar Fauzie, 60, said his youngest child and only daughter, Khairunnisa Haidar, was a flight attendant who had worked with AirAsia for two years.
On learning about the crash, he struggled to console his grieving wife. They last saw their child six weeks ago, when she returned home on holiday. "From the start, we already knew the risks associated with being a stewardess," Fauzie said. "She is beautiful and smart. It has always been her dream to fly. We couldn't have stopped her."
AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes, the airline's founder and public face and a constant presence in Indonesia since the tragedy started unfolding, said he planned to travel to the recovery site on Wednesday.
"I have apologized profusely for what they are going through," he said of his contact with relatives. "I am the leader of this company, and I have to take responsibility. That is why I'm here. I'm not running away from my obligations."
The jet's last communication indicated the pilots were worried about bad weather. They sought permission to climb above threatening clouds but were denied because of heavy air traffic. Four minutes later, the jet disappeared from the radar without issuing a distress signal.
Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini, Ali Kotarumalos and Margie Mason in Jakarta and Eileen Ng in Surabaya, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

Bodies Found In Indonesian Waters Where Plane Disappeared

A piece of object is floating on the waters of Java Sea near Central Kalimantan province, Indonesia on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014. An Air Asia jetliner disappeared Sunday on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore after encountering storm clouds. A massive international search effort has been launched since Flight 8501 disappeared from radar over the Java Sea.


PANGKALAN BUN, INDONESIA (AP) — Bloated bodies and debris seen floating in Indonesian waters Tuesday painfully ended the mystery of AirAsia Flight 8501, which crashed into the Java Sea with 162 people aboard and took more than two days to find, despite a massive international search.
The low-cost carrier vanished Sunday halfway through a two-hour flight between Surabaya, Indonesia and Singapore after encountering storm clouds. On Tuesday, with crews in dozens of planes, helicopters and ships looking for the aircraft, searchers discovered what appeared to be a life jacket and an emergency exit door. Part of the plane's interior, including an oxygen tank, was brought to the nearest town, Pangkalan Bun, along with a bright blue plastic suitcase that appeared to be in perfect condition.
First Adm. Sigit Setiayanta, Naval Aviation Center commander at Surabaya Air Force base, told reporters six corpses were spotted off Borneo island and about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the plane's last known coordinates. The bodies and wreckage were found about 160 kilometers (100 miles) from land.
Rescue workers were shown on local TV being lowered on ropes from a hovering helicopter to retrieve bodies. Efforts were hindered by 2-meter-high (6-foot) waves and strong winds, National Search and Rescue Director SB Supriyadi said, adding that several bodies were later picked up by a navy ship.
Supriyadi said he saw what appeared to be more wreckage under the water, which was clear and a relatively shallow 20 to 30 meters (65 to 100 feet). Indonesian television showed a half-naked body of a man whose shirt partially covered his head. The images sent a spasm of pain through family members watching together in a waiting room at the Surabaya airport.
Many screamed and wailed uncontrollably, breaking down into tears while they squeezed each other. One middle-aged man collapsed and had to be carried out on a stretcher. AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes tweeted, "My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ 8501. On behalf of AirAsia my condolences to all. Words cannot express how sorry I am." By evening he had flown back to Surabaya to meet passengers' families.
Pilots of the jet had been worried about the weather on Sunday and sought permission to climb above threatening clouds, but were denied due to heavy air traffic. Minutes later, the jet was gone from the radar without issuing a distress signal.
The suspected crash caps an astonishingly tragic year for air travel in Southeast Asia, and Malaysia in particular. Malaysia-based AirAsia's loss comes on top of the still-unsolved disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March with 239 people aboard, and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July over Ukraine, which killed all 298 passengers and crew.
Nearly all the passengers and crew are Indonesians, who are frequent visitors to Singapore, particularly on holidays. Ifan Joko, 54, said that despite the tragic news he is still hoping for a miracle. His brother, Charlie Gunawan, along with his wife, their three children and two other family members, were traveling to Singapore on the plane to ring in the New Year.
"I know the plane has crashed, but I cannot believe my brother and his family are dead," he said, wiping a tear. "... We still pray they are alive." Several countries are helping Indonesia retrieve the wreckage and the passengers.
The United States on Tuesday announced it was sending the USS Sampson destroyer, joining at least 30 ships, 15 aircraft and seven helicopters in the search for the jet, said Indonesia's Search and Rescue Agency chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo.
A Chinese frigate was also on the way, while Singapore said it was sending two underwater beacon detectors to try to detect pings from the plane's all-important cockpit voice and flight data recorders. Malaysia, Australia and Thailand also are involved in the search.
Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini, Ali Kotarumalos and Margie Mason in Jakarka and Eileen Ng in Surabaya, Indonesia contributed to this report.

Will Clinton Run? She Needs To Decide In 2015

Then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. delivers a speech supporting Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., at a rally in Orlando, Fla. A still undeclared candidate, Clinton sits atop the prospective field of Democratic presidential candidates for 2016. But as she has said before, if Clinton runs again, she'll work as hard as any underdog. Clinton's 2008 presidential bid stumbled against President Barack Obama, undermined by anti-war activists who opposed her vote to authorize the Iraq war, infighting among her staff and a large entourage in the early states where retail politics matter.


WASHINGTON (AP) — A still undeclared candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton sits atop the prospective field of Democratic presidential candidates for 2016. But as Clinton has said before, if she runs again, she'll work as hard as any underdog.
Clinton's 2008 presidential bid stumbled, undermined by anti-war activists who opposed her vote to authorize the Iraq war, infighting among her staff and a large entourage that made it difficult for her to connect with voters on a one-on-one basis.
How she attempts to address those deficiencies — assuming she runs for president, as expected — will be a big part of Clinton's efforts next year. Here's a look at five things to watch from Clinton in 2015.
ANNOUNCEMENT: Speculation about the timing of Clinton's announcement has been rampant. Some Democrats wanted her to make it official after the party's dreadful midterm elections. Clinton has scheduled some paid speeches into March, raising the possibility that she will hold off until spring. Democratic insiders expect a different approach this time — recall her January 2007 video declaring, "I'm in to win" — that harnesses the grassroots activists sowed by outside super PACs and allows her to make a big splash in online fundraising. "All of these supporters are a ready-made asset, eager to help promote her message and to stand by her in what we can safely expect to be a relentless, even unprecedented, swamp of negativity from her opponents," said Tracy Sefl, an adviser to Ready for Hillary.
RATIONALE: Clinton has said anyone who runs for president needs to have a specific agenda and have a reason to run. She offered hints at what her rationale might be during the fall campaign, advocating for middle-class economic prosperity, paid leave for working mothers and a hike in the minimum wage. The party's liberal wing will look for signs that she might offer a brand of economic populism that has made them gravitate to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who says she's not running in 2016.
OBAMA: Where Clinton embraces the president's agenda, and where she seeks to separate herself from him, will be closely scrutinized. Obama was a liability for many Democrats during the 2014 midterm elections and saw his approval ratings sink during the year. Clinton will need to remain loyal enough to the president to maintain his voting coalition while displaying enough independence to appeal to those who have grown weary of Obama. Succeeding a two-term president in your own party is never easy.
TEAM: How Clinton assembles a campaign team could be instructive of what she's learned since 2008. Back then, her campaign was beset by internal tensions and fights over strategy. This time, Clinton will have her pick of the party's top talent and Democrats expect her to build upon the technical know-how of the Obama campaigns. White House adviser John Podesta, a former Bill Clinton chief of staff, could serve in a senior role. Her team could include Clinton veterans like Robby Mook, who ran Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's 2013 race; Ace Smith, who advised California Gov. Jerry Brown's re-election this year; and Stephanie Schriock, the president of Democratic fundraising power EMILY's List. Guy Cecil, who led the Senate Democrats' campaign arm, said in a statement first reported by Politico last week that he was taking himself out of the running for a top campaign job.
GETTING OUT OF THE BUBBLE: Clinton often faced criticism in 2007 and 2008 that her large entourage and Secret Service protection made her unapproachable. Some of her campaign trips this fall included off-schedule stops at restaurants and coffee shops. But Clinton has yet to interact with voters in a personal way that remains common in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire. "That is now her greatest challenge: to get into the field and be with the people who form the storyline of her narrative about women and America's economy," wrote California Democratic strategist Karen Skelton, a former political aide in Bill Clinton's White House. She suggested the former first lady's team "figure out how to use this time to allow her to go back to a stripped-down version of her life."
Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter: https://twitter.com/KThomasDC

Secret Papers: UK Studied Chemical Weapons Buildup In 1980s

In this 1980 file photo, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher poses for a photograph in London. Newly released official papers show that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government considered rebuilding Britain’s chemical weapons arsenal in the face of a Soviet threat in the early 1980s.


LONDON (AP) — Newly released official papers show that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government considered rebuilding Britain's chemical weapons arsenal in the face of a Soviet threat in the early 1980s.
The formerly secret documents show that Thatcher's defense chiefs were worried that Britain had no response to a possible Soviet chemical attack except to retaliate with nuclear weapons. At the time, the Ministry of Defense believed the Soviet Union had more than 300,000 tons of nerve agents along with other chemical weapons.
Britain by then had voluntarily given up its chemical weapons supplies, and the United States — a fellow NATO member and close ally — had aging supplies that amounted to only one-tenth of the Soviet arsenal.
In the papers, Thatcher states that it might be considered "negligent" of the government not to develop a credible response to a Soviet chemical attack short of using nuclear weaponry. She also suggests urging the Americans to modernize their chemical arsenal.
The lack of a chemical capacity was called a "major gap" in NATO's military capacity by Defense Secretary Michael Heseltine in a secret 1984 document. He said the threat of a nuclear response lacked credibility.
Secret studies indicated mass casualties were likely — officials estimated, for example, that 33,350 people would die if the Soviet Union carried out a successful chemical attack on the important dockyard in Southampton.
Memos also warned that NATO soldiers would have to wear protective gear in any conflict with Soviet-back Warsaw Pact troops, greatly limiting their mobility, while Warsaw Pact troops would not have to take any precautions because their adversaries did not have a chemical weapons capacity.
Thatcher concluded that the timing was not right for a buildup of chemical weapons but urged the public to be made aware of the "enormous imbalance" between Soviet and Western capabilities. Other documents indicate the British studied building "chemical shelters" in homes to protect civilians from Soviet attack but could not come up with a workable design.
Chemical weapons were legal at the time. Britain has since joined the Chemical Weapons Convention barring them. It went into force in 1997, and Britain has worked to persuade other countries to renounce chemical stockpiles.
The secret files have been declassified by the National Archives under a 30-year rule regulating the release of government documents.

Search Area Expanded In Hunt For Air Asia Plane

Members of Indonesia's Marine Police pray on board a search and rescue ship before a search operation for the missing AirAsia flight QZ8501, at Pangkal Pinang port in Sumatra Island, Monday, Dec. 29, 2014 in Indonesia. Search planes and ships from several countries on Monday were scouring Indonesian waters over which the AirAsia jet disappeared, more than a day into the region's latest aviation mystery. The Flight 8501 vanished Sunday in airspace thick with storm clouds on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore.


SURABAYA, Indonesia (AP) — With no sign of the missing AirAsia jetliner, dozens of ships and planes on Tuesday joined a widening international effort now covering huge swaths of Indonesian sea and land. A device that can detect underwater signals from the aircraft's black boxes was also on its way, more than two days after Flight 8501 vanished from radar.
The United States announced it was sending the USS Sampson destroyer, joining at least 30 ships, 15 aircraft and seven helicopters in the search for the jet carrying 162 people, said Indonesia's Search and Rescue Agency chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo.
A Chinese frigate was also on the way, while Singapore said it was sending two underwater beacon detectors to try to detect pings from the plane's all-important cockpit voice and flight data recorders. Malaysia, Australia and Thailand also are involved in the search.
The plane vanished Sunday halfway into what should have been a two-hour hop from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore. Officials saw little reason to believe the flight met anything but a grim fate. Based on the plane's last known coordinates, the aircraft probably crashed into the water and "is at the bottom of the sea," Soelistyo said Monday.
It is believed to have crashed into Indonesia's Java Sea, a busy shipping lane where water on average is only 45 meters (150 feet) deep, but broad aerial surveys so far have turned up no firm evidence of the missing Airbus A320-200.
On Monday, searchers made various sightings they thought might be related to the plane, but by Tuesday all had been dismissed. Soelistyo said an Indonesian navy ship reached the spot where a military craft reported two oil patches in the Java Sea east of Belitung island. It was not jet fuel, or even oil, but coral.
"They were just shadows of two wide shapes of coral clusters that when seen from the air looked like oil spills," he said. The search has expanded to include not only the sea but nearby land. As the sun rose Tuesday over Pangkalan Bun on the western part of Kalimantan, two Indonesian helicopters flew over the island looking for any sign of wreckage. Two other copters were hundreds of kilometers east over the smaller islands of Bangka and Belitung.
"Until now, we have not yet found any signal or indication of the plane's whereabouts," Soelistyo told The Associated Press, adding that fishermen from Belitung island were also helping. The AirAsia pilots had been worried about the weather on Sunday and had sought permission to climb above threatening clouds, but were denied due to heavy air traffic. Minutes later, the jet was gone from the radar without issuing a distress signal.
Pilots rely on sophisticated weather-radar systems that include a dashboard display of storms and clouds, as well as reports from other crews, to steer around dangerous weather, and it's unlikely that alone would cause the plane to crash.
"A lot more information is available to pilots in the cockpit about weather" than ever, said Deborah Hersman, former chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. But the technology has limits and sometimes information about storms "can be a little bit stale."
The suspected crash caps an astonishingly tragic year for air travel in Southeast Asia, and Malaysia in particular. Malaysia-based AirAsia's loss comes on top of the mystery surround Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March with 239 people aboard, and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July over Ukraine, which killed all 298 passengers and crew.
Nearly all the passengers and crew are Indonesians, who are frequent visitors to Singapore, particularly on holidays. Ruth Natalia Puspitasari, who would have turned 26 on Monday, was among them. Her father, Suyanto, sat with his wife, who was puffy-eyed and coughing, near the family crisis center at Surabaya's airport.
"I don't want to experience the same thing with what happened with Malaysia Airlines," he said as his wife wept. "It could be a long suffering." Few believe this search will be as perplexing as the ongoing one for Flight 370, which remains a mystery. Authorities suspect the plane was deliberately diverted by someone on board and ultimately lost in a remote area of the Indian Ocean that's thousands of feet deep. Flight 8501 vanished over a heavily traveled sea that is relatively shallow, with no sign of foul play.
The captain, Iryanto, who like many Indonesians uses a single name, had more than 20,000 flying hours, AirAsia said. People who knew Iryanto recalled that he was an experienced military pilot, flying F-16 fighters before shifting to commercial aviation. His French co-pilot, Remi Plesel, had been in Indonesia three years and loved to fly, his sister, Renee, told France's RTL radio.
"He told me that things were going well, that he'd had a good Christmas. He was happy. The rains were starting," she said. "The weather was bad."
McDowell reported from Jakarta. Associated Press writers Ali Kotarumalos, Niniek Karmini and Margie Mason in Jakarta, Chris Brummitt in Singapore, Joan Lowy in Austin, Texas, Scott Mayerowitz in New York, David Koenig in Dallas and Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.

Rapid Growth Leaves Asian Airlines Searching For Pilots

A crew of an Indonesian Air Force C-130 airplane of the 31st Air Squadron, looks out of the window during a search operation for the missing AirAsia flight 8501 jetliner over the waters of Karimata Strait in Indonesia, Monday, Dec. 29, 2014. Search planes and ships from several countries on Monday were scouring Indonesian waters over which an AirAsia jet disappeared, more than a day into the region's latest aviation mystery. AirAsia Flight 8501 vanished Sunday in airspace thick with storm clouds on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore.


NEW YORK (AP) — Every week, a combined total of 28 new planes roll off the assembly lines at Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer factories — the fastest production rate in the history of commercial aviation. Most of those aircraft feed the insatiable demand in Asia.
The rapid growth of Asian airlines is helping bolster economies and change lifestyles, but it's also creating a daunting safety challenge as more passengers head into an increasingly crowded airspace.
Much of the boom has been driven by the surge in popularity of Southeast Asia's budget carriers, such as AirAsia, whose Flight 8501 disappeared Sunday morning, 42 minutes after it took off from Surabaya, Indonesia, on its way to Singapore. It is still unclear what happened to the plane, but the aviation disaster has put a new spotlight on the obstacles that lie ahead for the booming region.
As Southeast Asia's economies grow, creating a burgeoning middle class, more people have the appetite to travel and airlines are struggling to ensure that their training and safety standards keep pace with the demand.
There are currently 1,600 aircraft operating in Southeast Asia, Brendan Sobie, analyst at the CAPA Centre for Aviation, a consultancy in Sydney, said by email. "It is the only region in the world with as many aircraft on order as in service," he said. "So the growth seems set to continue."
For each new plane, airlines need to hire and train at least 10 to 12 pilots, sometimes more, according to industry experts. The figure is so high because planes often fly throughout the day and night, seven days a week, while pilots need sleep and days off.
Right now, Asia-Pacific accounts for 31 percent of global air passenger traffic, according to the International Air Transport Association. Within two decades, that figure is forecast to jump to 42 percent, as Asia adds an extra 1.8 billion annual passengers for an overall market size of 2.9 billion.
Boeing projects that the Asia-Pacific region will need 216,000 new pilots in the next 20 years, the most of any part of the world, accounting for 40 percent of the global demand. To put that in perspective, there are about 104,000 pilots currently working in the United States, flying everything from crop dusters to jumbo jets, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"The exponential growth in and the demand for air travel were not anticipated by many of the governments in the region," says Shukor Yusof, founder of the Malaysia-based aviation research firm Endau Analytics. "And so you're seeing a lack of infrastructure, airports and pilots because nobody expected low-cost travel would have taken off as quickly, as rapidly, and would be as lucrative as it is now."
Japan's Peach Aviation, which is partly owned by ANA Holdings, the parent of All Nippon Airways, said this spring it would cut up to 2,100 flights — about one-sixth of its planned schedule — that it expected to operate between April and October due to a pilot shortage.
The U.S. has many pilot-training facilities, from universities to specialized flying schools. And it has a farm system of regional carriers that train and churn out experienced pilots for the largest airlines. But Asia, home to fast-growing carriers such as AirAsia, Indonesia's Lion Air and India's Jet Airways, doesn't have enough training programs to produce all the pilots it needs, said David Greenberg, a former Delta Air Lines executive who also oversaw pilot training and safety at Korean Air.
"There is a global shortage, and this has brought pilot poaching," Greenberg said. Carriers in the Middle East and Asia have looked to the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe to fill the gap. Greenberg said that while he was at Korean, 10 percent of the carrier's captains were foreigners who came from 28 different countries.
Meanwhile, many pilots, engineers and technicians in Southeast Asia have been lured to more attractive jobs in the Middle East, which boast higher salaries and the opportunity to fly in sleek new aircraft.
"I personally know quite a number of people from Malaysia Airlines who have actually gone to the Middle East and I don't blame them because the money is very good," Yusof says. "If you compare Middle Eastern carriers to Southeast Asian carriers, they are more advanced, they are growing far quicker — it's all about dollars and cents and they have a bottomless pit of money."
Money — or lack thereof — is at the heart of much of the region's staffing shortages, says Lim Chee Meng, CEO of Mil-Com Aerospace Group, a Singapore-based aviation training company that provides training for many of the region's airlines.
Wages for pilots and technicians in Southeast Asia have not risen fast enough to compensate for the cost of training, which discourages people from wanting to pursue an aviation career in the first place, Lim says.
The dearth of trained staff means there are fewer workers to juggle an ever-growing workload — and that comes with risks. "It can lead to cascading effects down the road that can contribute to safety issues," Lim says. "Which is a big problem."
That said, the aviation industry has generally done an amazing job of improving safety while doubling the number of passengers in the past 15 years. Last year, 3.1 billion passengers flew, twice the total in 1999. Yet the chances of dying in a plane crash were much lower.
Since 2000, there were less than three fatalities per 10 million passengers, according to an Associated Press analysis of crash data provided by aviation consultancy Ascend. In the 1990s, there were nearly eight; during the 1980s there were 11; and the 1970s had 26 deaths per 10 million passengers.
That is not to say some parts of the world aren't more dangerous than others. The accident rate in Africa, for instance, is nearly five times that of the worldwide average, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization, part of the United Nations.
Indonesia has a particularly bumpy safety record. In 2007, the safety standards there were so bad that the European Union prohibited all of Indonesia's airlines from flying into any of its member countries. That ban was lifted Aug. 17, 2009; however, Indonesia's main airline — quickly growing Lion Air — is still banned by the EU.
For many people, flying is the only option. Indonesia is a sprawling archipelago of 250 million people. To get from one island to another, the easiest way is by air. Throughout Asia, adequate highways or railroads don't always exist. So as the region's economy has grown, the number of people flying has, too.
And that growth is only going to continue. Indonesia's various airlines have 607 unfilled aircraft orders with Airbus and Boeing. Lion Air has the bulk of those, with 508 aircraft still on order. __ Koenig reported from Dallas. Associated Press writer Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.
__ Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott . David Koenig can be reached at http://twitter.com/airlinewriter .

Monday, December 29, 2014

Obama Warns GOP He Plans To Use Veto Pen In 2015

President Barack Obama, with first lady Michelle Obama, points toward a child in the audience as he greets troops and their families on Christmas Day, Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014, at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii during the Obama family vacation.


HONOLULU (AP) — Bracing to do business with a Congress run solely by Republicans, President Barack Obama is serving notice he has no qualms about vetoing legislation he dislikes.
This would be a significant change in style for Obama, come January when the new Congress will be seated with the GOP not only in command in the House but also the Senate as well. He's wielded the veto pen through his first nearly six years very sparingly. Since taking office in 2009, Obama has only vetoed legislation twice, both in fairly minor circumstances.
"I haven't used the veto pen very often since I've been in office," Obama said in an NPR interview airing Monday. "Now, I suspect, there are going to be some times where I've got to pull that pen out."
He added: "I'm going to defend gains that we've made in health care. I'm going to defend gains that we've made on environment and clean air and clean water." Obama's warning to the GOP that he'll veto legislation if necessary to protect his agenda and laws like the Affordable Care Act came as he sought to set the tone for a year in which Congress and the president are on a near-certain collision course. Buoyed by decisive gains in last month's midterm elections, Republicans are itching to use their newfound Senate majority to derail Obama's plans on immigration, climate change and health care, to name a few.
To overturn Obama's veto, Republicans would need the votes of two-thirds of the House and Senate. Their majorities in both chambers are not that large, so they would still need to persuade some Democrats to defy the president.
But Obama said he was hopeful that at least on some issues, that won't be necessary, because there's overlap between his interests and those of congressional Republicans. On that point, at least, he's in agreement with incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
"Bipartisan jobs bills will see the light of day and will make it to the President's desk, and he'll have to make decisions about ideology versus creating jobs for the middle class," McConnell said in response to Obama's comments. "There's a lot we can get done together if the president puts his famous pen to use signing bills rather than vetoing legislation his liberal allies don't like."
Potential areas for cooperation include tax reform and global trade deals — both issues where Obama and Republicans see at least partially eye to eye. Conversely, the likeliest points of friction surround Environmental Protection Agency regulations, the Keystone XL pipeline and Obama's unilateral steps on immigration, which let millions of people in the U.S. illegally avoid deportation and get work permits.
In the interview, recorded before Obama left Washington earlier this month for his annual Hawaii vacation, Obama also offered his most specific diagnosis to date of why Democrats fared so poorly in the midterms. He said he was "obviously frustrated" with the results.
"I think we had a great record for members of Congress to run on and I don't think we — myself and the Democratic Party — made as good of a case as we should have," Obama said. "And you know, as a consequence, we had really low voter turnout, and the results were bad."
Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Key Decisions On Drones Likely From Congress

Jon McBride, who designs and builds drones with Digital Defense Surveillance, flies a training drone for members of the the Box Elder County Sheriff's Office search and rescue team, during a demonstration, in Brigham City, Utah. The Obama administration is on the verge of proposing long-awaited rules for commercial drone operations in U.S. skies, but key decisions on how much access to grant drones are likely to come from Congress next year.


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is on the verge of proposing long-awaited rules for commercial drone operations in U.S. skies, but key decisions on how much access to grant drones are likely to come from Congress next year.
Federal Aviation Administration officials have said they want to release proposed rules before the end of this month, but other government and industry officials say they are likely to be delayed until January. Meanwhile, except for a small number of companies that have received FAA exemptions, a ban on commercial drone flights remains in place. Even after rules are proposed, it is likely to be two or three years before regulations become final.
That's too long to wait, say drone industry officials. Every year the ban remains in place, the United States loses more than $10 billion in potential economic benefits that drones could provide, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group.
"We need some sort of process that allows some of the low-risk operations," said Jesse Kallman, the head of regulatory affairs for Airware, a drone technology company backed by Google Ventures. "I think Congress understands that, and hopefully they'll take steps in the coming year to address that."
That appears to be what some key lawmakers have in mind. "We in Congress are very interested in UAS," Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said at a hearing this month, referring to unmanned aerial systems, or drones. "We understand UAS are an exciting technology with the potential to transform parts of our economy. ... It is our responsibility to take a close look."
One of the committee's first priorities next year is writing legislation to reauthorize FAA programs and overhaul aviation policy. The bill is expected to include directions from lawmakers on how to integrate drones into the nation's aviation system. The last reauthorization bill, passed in 2012, directed the agency to integrate drones by Sept. 30, 2015, but it's clear the FAA will miss that deadline.
The FAA is expected to propose restricting drones weighing less than 55 pounds to altitudes below 400 feet, forbid nighttime flights and require drones be kept within sight of their operators. Drone operators may also be required to get pilot's licenses, a possibility already drawing fire from critics who say the skills needed to fly a manned aircraft are different from those needed to operate a drone.
Shuster indicated he's concerned that requiring pilot's licenses might be burdensome and unnecessary. And keeping drones within sight of operators would be too strict and limit their usefulness, he said.
The reason for keeping drones within line of sight is that they don't yet have the ability to detect and avoid other aircraft. AUVSI, the drone industry trade group, recently hired Mark Aitken, former legislative director to Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., as its government relations manager. LoBiondo is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Aviation, which will write the FAA reauthorization bill.
"We're really looking at an incremental approach still," Aitken said. "It's not something that is going to happen overnight." FAA officials have been working on drone regulations for nearly a decade. The agency twice drafted regulations that were later rejected by the White House or Transportation Department. The FAA has long maintained that unmanned aircraft must meet the same regulations as manned aircraft unless waiving or adjusting those regulations doesn't create a safety risk. However, FAA officials more recently have begun talking about "risk-based" regulations, giving industry officials hope the agency might propose a blanket exemption from regulations for the smallest drones — usually defined as weighing under 5 pounds — as long as operators follow a few basic safety rules. Canadian authorities recently approved a blanket exemption for very small drones.
Congress already is getting pushback from private and commercial pilots who worry about possible collisions. The FAA receives reports nearly every day about drones sighted flying near manned aircraft or airports.
"As a (Boeing) 737 captain, I'll be damned if myself and 178 other people are taken down by a 12-pound or a 50-pound or a 150-pound piece of metal coming through my windshield," said Ben Berman at a recent forum hosted by the Air Line Pilots Association. "There are too many near misses occurring every day like this."
Mark Baker, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which represents private pilots, said online videos show that "operators are flying near airports, in the clouds and in congested airspace." He called such actions "reckless" and said they will inevitably lead to a collision.
FAA regulations permit recreational users to fly small drones as long as they stay at least 5 miles away from an airport, limit flights to less than 400 feet in altitude, keep the aircraft in line of sight and fly only during the daytime.
Last week, drone industry trade groups teamed up with the FAA and model aircraft hobbyists to launch a safety campaign aimed at amateur drone operations. The campaign includes a website, www.knowbeforeyoufly.com , where operators can find FAA regulations and advice on how to fly safely. The trade groups said they also plan to distribute safety pamphlets at industry events and are working with manufacturers to see that safety information is enclosed inside the package of new drones.
Retailers say small drones, which are indistinguishable from today's more sophisticated model aircraft, were popular gifts this Christmas.
Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy
Online:
Drone safety campaign: http://www.knowbeforeyoufly.com