- Associated Press - Friday, March 27, 2015

German police search for hints of motive in homes of co-pilot amid depression reports

BERLIN (AP) - Police have searched the homes of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz in two German cities in search of an explanation for why he may have crashed a passenger plane into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board.

German tabloid Bild reported Friday that Lubitz had a “serious depressive episode” six years ago and that a medical problem was noted in aviation records.

The Federal Aviation Office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

French investigators believe the 27-year-old locked himself inside the cockpit and then intentionally smashed the Germanwings plane into a mountainside.

A spokeswoman for Duesseldorf police, Susanna Heusgen, said “no crucial piece of evidence has been found yet” after the searches in Duesseldorf and Montabaur.


The Latest: Germanwings sets up family assistance center for crash victims’ relatives

10:25 a.m. (0925 GMT, 5:25 a.m.)

Germanwings says it is setting up a family assistance center in Marseille for relatives of the 150 people killed when one of its planes crashed in the French Alps.

Investigators believe Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz intentionally crashed the plane into a mountainside during Tuesday’s flight from Barcelona to Duesseldorf.

Germanwings spokesman Thomas Winkelmann said in a statement that “in these dark hours our full attention belongs to the emotional support of the relatives and friends of the victims of Flight 9525.”

The airline, a subsidiary of German carrier Lufthansa, says some grieving relatives took part in a religious service Thursday afternoon near the crash site.


Little effort is applied to vetting airline pilots for mental health issues, US experts say

WASHINGTON (AP) - Despite U.S. and international regulations requiring that airline pilots be screened for mental health problems, little effective, real-world checking takes place, pilots and safety experts say.

The crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 into an Alpine mountain, which killed all 150 people aboard, has raised questions about the mental state of the co-pilot. Authorities believe the 27-year-old German deliberately sought to destroy the Airbus A320 as it flew Tuesday from Barcelona to Duesseldorf.

In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration requires that pilots receive a physical exam from a flight surgeon annually or every six months depending upon the pilot’s age. The International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency that sets global aviation standards, also requires that pilots receive a periodic medical exam including a mental assessment.

Technically, doctors are supposed to probe for mental problems, but pilots said Thursday that’s usually not how it works.

“There really is no mental health vetting,” said John Gadzinski, a captain with a major U.S. airline and former Navy pilot. In 29 years of physicals from flight surgeons he’s never once been asked about his mental health, he said.


Senate follows House in passing GOP plan to balance budget, dismantle Obama health care law

WASHINGTON (AP) - Republicans muscled a balanced-budget plan through the Senate early Friday, positioning Congress for months of battling President Barack Obama over the GOP’s goals of slicing spending and dismantling his health care law.

Working into Friday’s pre-dawn hours, senators approved the blueprint by a near party-line 52-46 vote, endorsing a measure that closely follows one the House passed Wednesday. Both budgets embody a conservative vision of shrinking projected federal deficits by more than $5 trillion over the coming decade, mostly by cutting health care and other benefit programs and without raising taxes.

The Senate was beginning a spring recess after approving the measure, leaving Congress’ two GOP-run chambers to negotiate a compromise budget in mid-April. The legislation is a non-binding blueprint that does not require Obama’s signature but lays the groundwork for future bills that seem destined for veto fights with the president.

“Republicans have shown that the Senate is under new management and delivering on the change and responsible government the American people expect,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Democrats viewed the document differently, saying it relied on gimmickry and touted the wrong priorities.


Arabs inch closer to longtime dream of creating a joint Arab force

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) - Arab leaders meeting this weekend in this Egyptian Red Sea resort are moving closer than ever to creating a joint Arab military force, a sign of a new determination among Saudi Arabia, Egypt and their allies to intervene aggressively in regional hotspots, whether against Islamic militants or spreading Iranian power.

Creation of such a force has been a longtime goal that has eluded Arab nations in the 65 years since they signed a rarely used joint defense pact. And there remains reluctance among some countries, particularly allies of Iran like Syria and Iraq - a reflection of the divisions in the region.

Foreign ministers gathered in Sharm el-Sheikh ahead of the summit, which begins Saturday, agreed on a broad plan for the force. It came as Saudi Arabia and its allies opened a campaign of airstrikes in Yemen against Iranian-backed Shiite rebels who have taken over much of the country and forced its U.S.- and Gulf-backed president to flee abroad.

The Yemen campaign marked a major test of the new policy of intervention by the Gulf and Egypt. The brewing Yemen crisis - and Gulf fears that the rebels are a proxy for Iranian influence - have been one motivator in their move for a joint Arab force. But it also signaled that they are not going to wait for the Arab League, notorious for its delays and divisions, and will press ahead with their military coordination on multiple fronts.

Egyptian officials said the Yemen airstrikes are to be followed by a ground intervention to further weaken the rebels, known as Houthis, and their allies and force them into negotiations. They have also moved ahead with action in Libya after its collapse into chaos since 2011 and the rise of militants there - including now an affiliate of the Islamic State group that has overrun much of Iraq and Syria. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have both carried out airstrikes against Libyan militants in the past year.


Utility says inspectors found faulty work before blast tore through NYC building, injuring 19

NEW YORK (AP) - An hour before an apparent gas explosion sent flames soaring and debris flying at a Manhattan apartment building, injuring 19 people, utility company inspectors decided the work being done there was faulty.

The blast on Thursday in the East Village caused the building’s collapse, and largely destroyed another structure. It left four people in critical condition, more than a dozen others injured and one family searching for a loved one.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said preliminary evidence suggested a gas explosion amid plumbing and gas work inside the building that collapsed was to blame. A plumber was doing work connected to a gas service upgrade, and inspectors for utility company Con Edison had been there, company President Craig Ivey said. But the work failed the inspection, partly because a space for the new meters wasn’t big enough, Con Ed said.

The state Department of Public Service was monitoring Con Ed’s response.

Restaurant diners ran out of their shoes and bystanders helped one another to escape the midafternoon blast, which damaged four buildings as flames shot into the air, witnesses said. Passers-by were hit by debris and flying glass, and bloodied victims were aided as they sat on sidewalks and lay on the ground, they said.


US strategy across Mideast is complicated, in large part because of complex US-Iran dynamic

WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. and Iranian diplomats gather at a Baroque palace in Europe, a historic nuclear agreement within reach. Over Iraq’s deserts, their militaries fight a common foe. Leaders in Washington and Tehran, capitals once a million miles from each other in ideological terms, wrestle for the first time in decades with the notion of a rapprochement.

Yet the old adversaries are locked in proxy war across an ever more volatile region. In Syria, the United States arms insurgents seeking to oust the Iran-backed government. In Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and elsewhere, Iran supports militant groups determined to end Israel’s existence. And now in Yemen, the U.S. is backing a military intervention by Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia against a Shiite rebellion aided by Iran.

Nothing is simple amid the overlapping fault lines of Sunnis and Shiite, Arabs and Persians, Muslims and Jews, and the countless tribal affiliations that define that part of the world. And six years after President Barack Obama swept into office hoping to simplify America’s role there by ending the long war in Iraq, engaging Iran and Syria and trying to advance a long-sought Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, U.S. involvement in the region - and its relationship with Iran - seem more complicated than ever.

The Obama administration insists its Middle East policy follows long-standing principles: defeating terrorism, halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction, stabilizing weak states, advancing democracy and human rights, spurring economic development. At the heart of each objective is counteracting Iran. The U.S. accuses Tehran of sponsoring terrorism around the world, destabilizing neighboring countries and trying to achieve nuclear weapons capability.

“There’s no contradiction,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Thursday as he was questioned on the Mideast’s concurrent crises. “We have made clear throughout the process of the nuclear negotiations with Iran that we have serious concerns about Iranian behavior in a number of areas. Talk about terrorism, talk about human rights, talk about the fate of American citizens who are inside Iran in detention. The focus of the nuclear negotiations is on the nuclear issue.”


Fish, critters found in extreme Antarctica hint that life could thrive elsewhere in cosmos

DECEPTION ISLAND, Antarctica (AP) - Deep below the ice, far from the playful penguins and other animals that bring tourists to Antarctica, is a cold and barren world that by all indications should be completely void of life.

But recently, scientists researching melting ice watched a half-foot-long (15-centimeter) fish swim by. Not long after that, they saw shrimp-like creatures.

In even more remote places on the continent, areas that haven’t been exposed to sunlight for millions of years, scientists found a surprise right out of an alien movie: the DNA of a microscopic creature that looks like a combination of a bear, manatee and centipede.

Life that is simultaneously normal and weird, simple and complex thrives in this extreme environment. To the scientists who brave the cold and remoteness to find life amid the ice, it’s a source of surprise and wonder. For extreme life experts, it’s a testimony to the power of evolution.

“It really shows how tenacious life is,” said Reed Scherer, a micropaleontology professor at Northern Illinois University. “The possibilities are just beyond our prediction.”


Lawyer says kidnapping wasn’t a hoax, woman cooperating with police

VALLEJO, Calif. (AP) - Declaring a reported kidnapping wasn’t a hoax, the attorney for California woman who went missing for two days says she has met with police and is cooperating with their investigation.

Denise Huskins met with Vallejo Police detectives for several hours Thursday “with the hope of clearing her name because she is absolutely, unequivocally, 100 percent, positively a victim,” attorney Doug Rappaport said.

He said her abduction wasn’t staged as police have suggested.

“This is no hoax,” he said.

Rappaport said Huskins has been emotionally and physically broken and hurt even more by being considered a suspect.


Kentucky looks unbeatable, but Irish have slain Goliaths; Wisconsin’s Bo didn’t change a thing

Bo Ryan is no fan of change.

He said so himself answering the question - “What’s the most important change your team needs to make here?” - as he left the locker room to start the second half, down by two to North Carolina in Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup.

Wisconsin was shooting just 37 percent, almost 30 points lower than the pass-completion percentage posted last season by that other icon of the Badger state, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was in the stands with girlfriend Olivia Munn in LA.

“Well, we don’t need to change here,” Ryan practically growled in response to sideline reporter Rachel Nichols. “We just have to play better.”

Coaches have been saying that since the dawn of time. Ryan wasn’t around then, but he’s only changed so much in his 67 years.

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