Friday, November 25, 2011

Air Force nuclear transport work falls short: McChord C-17 wing gets unsatisfactory rating

The active-duty Air Force wing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is the only one in the U.S. military tasked with one of the nation’s most sensitive and secretive missions: transporting nuclear weapons.  In military parlance, the mission is called Prime Nuclear Airlift Force, or PNAF.  The 62nd Airlift Wing has a motto for that mission: “PNAF... Perfect... Always!”  Not anymore.

Sheriff: Laser aimed at UPS plane over south Georgia. Dangerous stunt can temporarily blind pilots and carries steep $11K fine

STATESBORO, Ga. (AP) — Authorities in south Georgia are investigating a pair of reports from pilots who say they have had laser beams from ground near the Ogeechee River aimed at their cockpits.  The pilot of a UPS Inc. plane reported being flashed recently by a green laser beam as it headed toward the airport in the south Georgia town of Statesboro.  Bulloch County sheriff's officials told The Statesboro Herald that an Air Evac helicopter pilot recently reported a similar incident (http://bit.ly/v9H7jp). Elsewhere in Georgia, officers searched for the source of a laser beam after a Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport official reported Nov. 12 that someone aimed it into the cockpit of an airplane passing over northwest Georgia. The Atlanta airport is the world's busiest.

The Federal Aviation Administration this year signaled that it would impose penalties of up to $11,000 against people who point a laser into a cockpit. Authorities say the devices can temporarily blind pilots.  Several pilots this year have reported being temporarily blinded by the devices in recent months, according to records from the Federal Aviation Administration.

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First Joint Strike Fighter hangar under way at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma

Steel workers attach the highest piece of steel to the world's first operational Joint Strike Fighter hangar, Nov. 20. The beam was first signed by key personnel to the construction project, before being hoisted in place with a crane.
Marine Corps Air Station Yuma

Col. Robert Kuckuk, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma commanding officer, talks to participants in the topping off ceremony Nov. 20. The project, which would normally taking upward of 18 months to complete, is scheduled to take only 10 months and be completed in March 2012.
Marine Corps Air Station Yuma

Steel workers attach the highest piece of steel to the world's first operational Joint Strike Fighter hangar, Nov. 20. Just one month ago, there was nothing but footings sticking out of the ground at the construction site. This hangar is the first of four slated to be built in Yuma.
Marine Corps Air Station Yuma

The final steel beam for the world's first operational Joint Strike Fighter hangar has been hoisted into place during a traditional topping-off ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.

The beam, bearing the signatures of base leaders and several key members of the construction team, was lifted high into the air by a crane and then carefully lowered and guided into place. Once done, it marked the completion of the frame structure of the aircraft hangar.

“It was a big milestone,” said Lt. Commander Angelique McBee, resident officer in charge of construction at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. “There is a lot of construction going on currently at the air station.”

Base leaders and key personnel to the construction project said the Monday ceremony symbolized the dedication of both the government and contractors as they continue to work to finish this project. Just one month ago, there was nothing but footings sticking out of the ground.

The hangar, which costs $36 million and would normally take about 18 months to build, is expected to be completed in 10 months, and in use by March. McBee said that the air station is on a tight timeline to coincide with the first arrival of the first F-35s in Yuma.

As the future home of the first F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in the country, MCAS Yuma will get five squadrons each with 16 aircraft, and one operational test and evaluation squadron of eight aircraft. The 88 aircraft will replace Yuma's four existing squadrons of 56 AV-8B Harriers.

McBee said Pittsburgh-based DCK Worldwide is the general contractor for the project and has hired about 120 to 135 local workers for the projects.

Ground was symbolically broken for the hangar in June as part of $150 million worth of construction projects that will be taking place at the air station in the coming years.

In addition to the F-35 hangar that is currently being built, other projects slated to be built during this first round of construction include a JSF simulator building, upgrades to communications and utilities infrastructure and a second hangar.

The F-35 will also eventually replace the AV-8B aircraft based in North Carolina and the F-18 Hornets based in California, South Carolina and Japan, becoming the Marine Corps' sole fixed-wing attack aircraft.

The Joint Strike Fighter will also allow the Marine Corps the capability to turn every one of its amphibious big deck ships into aircraft carriers, which essentially doubles the number of carriers the nation currently has scattered throughout the oceans of the world.

The first F-35 pilots were scheduled to begin arriving at MCAS Yuma this month, while the first F-35 JSF aircraft is on track for September 2012.

Injured stadium skydiver thankful for life, little girl's card

WHITEFISH - It's not the people he spared by a single heroic act, but the little girl he knocked down that has occupied the thoughts of Silvertip skydiver Blaine Wright.

But Wright, whose body smashed onto concrete outside of Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Oct. 29, is thankful to be alive today, and thankful he got the chance to deliver a message to the girl:

"I'm sorry I scared you."

Ever since the horrific skydiving accident outside the stadium brought him to the brink of death, Wright has been flooded with letters and cards from hundreds of Missoulians, most of whom he doesn't know.

One day, a card arrived at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where Wright spent 24 hours at death's door, a week in intensive care and three days in surgery for 19 broken bones.

It was from Olivia, the little girl.

"Here it is," said Wright, pawing through a thick stack of envelopes at his Whitefish home, where he faces an uphill recovery and at least nine more weeks in a hospital bed before he can walk again.

"It says, ‘Dear Blaine Wright. I'm the girl you hit but I'm OK. At my school, you are all we can talk about. Maybe next time we meet, we can shake hands instead, OK? Love, Olivia. P.S. Some other kids hope you feel better, too.' "

The doctors who treated the 53-year-old Wright had doubts he would survive.

It wasn't his cracked skull or pelvis broken in seven places or his collapsed lung or his fractured vertebrae, all caused by Wright's plummet onto a concrete wall after a "bucking headwind" blew the skydiver far off target during the Silvertip Skydivers' traditional pre-game jump into Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

More dire than those was heavy internal bleeding in Wright's pelvis, which caused his blood pressure to dip to near-fatal levels over and over again.

Wright knew none of this on the Life Flight journey to Seattle from St. Patrick Hospital, and was barely aware that his sister Beth Cole was by his side in the plane.

The only thing Wright knew - and can remember nearly a month later - is that he was desperate for air.

"I have very little memory of the first couple days, but what I do remember is that I couldn't breathe and I was begging for them to help me to breathe," said Wright, a world-champion skydiver who has made around 3,000 jumps over his 38-year career. "It was terrifying. I felt like I was suffocating and I couldn't understand why they wouldn't help me."

They couldn't help him, not in the air. And the flight was long. The same weather system that caused whipping winds in Hellgate Canyon also created a 70 mph headwind en route to Seattle.

Once at Harborview, a Level I trauma center, Wright was finally given the air his collapsed lung caused to run a deficit, but it would be another 24 hours before doctors finally told Cole that her big brother was going to live.

Cole, a Hellgate High School teacher, didn't leave Wright's side for a week.

"She was amazing," said Wright, an independent aerospace engineer. "She made sure I was OK. There was such a barrage of information. There were five different surgery teams involved in my accident, and she had to interface with all of them."

The barrage of information began to trickle in to Wright about a week and a half after he arrived at Harborview. Only then did he begin to appreciate how seriously he was injured, how close he had come to death, and how miraculously the medical staff at Harborview had performed.

"They put all of it up on a computer monitor," Wright remembers. "Before that, it was, ‘Oh, I hurt again.' It was quite generic until I saw those X-rays. And that turned into an appreciation for what those guys did for me."

Blaine Wright does not like wind. No skydiver does.

The Silvertip Skydivers club, of which Wright has been a member since 1975, closely monitors wind conditions on the ground and in the air before approving its famous jumps into Washington-Grizzly Stadium for University of Montana football games.

Even mild winds can become treacherous in the Hellgate Canyon, as air funnels through a narrow corridor then bounces off buildings and other structures, sometimes creating "rotors" of wind turbulence that rapidly change speed and direction.

"The scary thing about that stadium is that if there are winds, they can be very squirrely," Wright said. "I don't care to jump in there if there are any winds of any significance at all. This particular time, we should not have jumped in."

Just before jump time, the club contacted the skydivers and told them the wind speed on the ground was within an acceptable range.

"I spoke with the ground a minute before we exited the plane," Wright said. "And the word was that the wind conditions were acceptable. I don't know if the winds came up after we exited the plane, or if in fact they were not acceptable."

Wright was the lead skydiver, as he almost always is. The lead skydiver's job, once the chute is deployed, is to criss-cross the stadium, read wind speeds by flag movement on the ground and determine the best route to get to the landing spot - the grizzly bear on the stadium's 50-yard line.

Skydivers want to descend to the target in a headwind, if there is any wind at all. Crosswinds are unpredictable and can cause a chute to collapse. Tailwinds can cause too much speed for a safe landing.

Wright knew there was trouble once he turned his chute to the west and into the headwind.

"When I turned back to the west, I had no forward drive at all," he said. "There was enough of a headwind that it totally negated my forward speed. And my parachute has probably a 25 mph forward speed. I was hoping that the wind would subside as we got lower to the stadium. But there came a point where it was evident to me that I was not going to make the stadium floor."

As Wright descended, the opportunities to hit a bailout landing spot quickly disappeared.

About 60 feet above the stadium floor, the skydiver knew he was on course to crash into the student section. He turned hard and to the left to avoid the crowd.

"You just don't go into the crowd," he said. "You just go do something different. And that's what I had to do. ... My preference is to have only one person hurt, and that would be me. I wouldn't want to have to deal with nightmares of putting someone in a hospital I don't know, and could never apologize to."

Wright said he was not aiming for the small lawn outside the southeast corner of the stadium. But even if he were, that headwind he was battling quickly became a tailwind, and it rocketed him forward, causing him to clip a tall tree.

"It added to the speed of my parachute, and I picked up a lot of speed," he said. "I saw the tree coming at me and really, that's the last of my memory."

Witnesses said they heard Wright's bones crunch and pop when his body hit a concrete retaining wall before slamming onto the sidewalk.

Little Olivia was standing right there, and got knocked over. She was scared, but she was fine.

Wright has jumped into Washington-Grizzly Stadium on 100 occasions, and his feet touch the grizzly bear "five out of six times."

In 1977, he broke his ankle parachuting into one of the infamous Aber Day keggers up Miller Creek. In 1999, he broke a femur blade-running at Big Mountain.

He's also had mishaps while water skiing, gelande jumping and kayaking, racking up 19 broken bones in all that time. He doubled that total on Oct. 29.

Today, Wright's thin, lanky but muscle-toned body has shrunk, deprived of the thrill-seeking activities that have always driven him.

"The atrophy after just three weeks is amazing already," he said. "My legs have basically disappeared. I went from extremely good conditioning to nothing so quickly."

Wright is bed-bound and would be largely helpless were it not for the support of his sister and a host of friends who stay with him, many of them from the tight-knit skydiving community.

Tim Cashmin, a Bozeman native who has skydived with Wright for more than 30 years, drove from his Santa Monica, Calif., home to stay with Wright for two weeks. Himself the survivor of a traumatic, near-death skydiving fall, Cashmin felt compelled to help his friend.

"My knee-jerk reaction is that if there was anything I could contribute, I will be there," he said. "Through the grapevine, I kind of heard what was going on. I thought if there is anything I can bring through my experience in the recovery process, I will be there."

Cashmin still skydives today despite his crash. And Wright, too, is "probably" heading that direction. But that decision will rest on whether his body fully heals.

"It's going to require I have a full recovery and that I'm not putting my body in any extra peril," he said. "If I'm not structurally sound to do it anymore, of course I won't. But I've been told I can expect a full recovery, so I'll probably jump again. ... But right now, I'm not aiming to hurry back to the sky or to the slopes."

Wright will essentially have to learn to walk again, and build his strength slowly when he leaves his hospital bed. He knows one of the first places his legs will take him - right to the feet of a little girl he toppled over on Oct. 29 outside Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

"Olivia doesn't know it yet, but I'm going to come visit her school," Wright said. "And I'm going to bring her a kids' Silvertip Skydiver T-shirt."

F-35 makes headway amid criticism, US budget crunch

ABOARD THE USS WASP, Nov 25 (Reuters) - The 16-ton fighter jet slowed to a stop off the warship's port beam, where it hovered like a floating rock as thousands of pounds of thrust from its engine and lift fan stirred up a cloud of mist from the Atlantic Ocean 100 feet below.

After a brief hesitation, the sleek, new gray airplane - a Marine Corps version of the radar-evading F-35 Joint Strike Fighter - slipped quickly sideways over the amphibious assault ship and then dropped to the flight deck with a gentle bump.

"It's just an incredible feeling to have that kind of precision control over that kind of power," Lieutenant Colonel Matt Kelly, a test pilot, said after watching a fellow flier land the jet during recent sea trials of the warplane. "It's a pilot's airplane to fly. It does what the pilot wants it to do."

The smooth test performance contrasts with the rough ride the F-35 development program has had, thanks to cost overruns and production delays, since it first began to take shape more than a decade ago in the secretive advanced projects labs at the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin .

Critics say the F-35, which comes in three variants, is an ill-conceived multipurpose aircraft that tries to do too many things and will ultimately excel at none. Its stealthy fuselage and high-tech systems, some say, are so complex to build and maintain they will inevitably make it unaffordable.

But advocates view the aircraft as a war-fighting platform for the networked, iPad generation that will revolutionize the way America fights.

"This airplane will give the United States and its allies tremendous capability for years and years, decades and decades to come," said Alan Norman, Lockheed's chief test pilot for the jet. "It gives us that quantum leap in capability that allows the pilot to really think about and dictate what he wants to do in the airspace."

First, however, it must survive budget cuts in Washington. Because the United States is trillions of dollars in debt, Congress has already ordered $450 billion in defense budget reductions over the next decade and may demand more as it tries to pare another $1.2 trillion in projected federal spending over 10 years.

The failure this month of Congress' "super committee" to reach a deficit-cutting deal could trigger automatic budget reductions beginning in January 2013, including an additional $650 billion of security spending. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has issued dire warnings about such reductions.

The F-35, the Pentagon's costliest weapons program at $382 billion, is a logical place to look for savings, especially since it started as a program to build an affordable jet but has ballooned in cost almost from its inception.

The Marine Corps version of the aircraft tested on the USS Wasp is under threat of cancellation, and the Air Force and Navy, which have their own variants, may have to scale back the number of planes they purchase in an effort to economize.

Lockheed officials privately concede the United States may not buy all 2,447 jets currently planned.

"Clearly it's on probation, even in the minds of top Pentagon officials because of the technological hurdles that it hasn't cleared and the spiraling costs of the program," said Chris Hellman, research director at the National Priorities Project, a left-leaning nonpartisan think tank.

"At a moment in time where ... they're going to have to come up with some substantial savings in their budget," he said, "it's sort of a prime target for deficit reduction."

DARPA AND SKUNK WORKS


The F-35 program began in the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as an effort to develop technologies for a successor aircraft to the Marines' AV-8 Harrier jump jet, with its short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities first developed by the British military.

DARPA sought assistance from Lockheed Martin's "Skunk Works" research lab - the brains behind the Cold War-era U-2 spy plane and the stealthy F-22 Raptor, the only so-called fifth-generation fighter currently in service worldwide.

Some military services also wanted an aircraft that could do everything from close-air support to air-to-air combat, enabling them to replace several aging planes with a single jet. Congress merged the programs in the mid-1990s.

Lockheed Martin beat out a Boeing proposal and on Oct. 26, 2001, was awarded an $18 billion initial contract to develop its plane.

A key goal was affordability. Multiple supply chains could be eliminated by using the F-35 to replace a diverse set of aircraft, from the F-16 and AV-8 Harrier to the F/A-18 and A-10 Warthog.

Use of many common parts among the three versions would help reduce costs, as would having a single maintenance supply system for all the services instead of one for each.

Further efficiencies were sought by bringing allied partners into the project, a move meant to improve interoperability and lower costs in multinational operations. Eight other countries eventually joined the program and others plan to buy and field the aircraft.

But the program quickly ran into technological challenges. Development horizons lengthened, costs rose and the total aircraft buy shrank.

"The problem is built into the DNA of the airplane," said Winslow Wheeler, an analyst at the Center for Defense Information, noting that the F-35 was conceived by DARPA as a short-takeoff, vertical landing aircraft, an idea that was then imposed on Navy and Air Force notions of a multi-role fighter.

"Layer on top of that a third level of complexity derived from stealth. ... That complexity makes it an illusion that anybody can get the cost of this thing to a level that's affordable," said Wheeler, a staunch critic of the plane.

The initial estimated cost of developing and purchasing 2,866 of the aircraft was $231 billion, with the services expected to start flying it between 2010 and 2012, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Seven years later, officials now expect it will cost $382 billion for 2,447 F-35s, an increase of about 64 percent.

Lockheed expects the F-35 to cost about $65 million once the plane is in full production. With the jet currently only being built in small batches, the GAO estimated earlier this year it cost about $133 million per airplane.

The military services are not expected to put the plane into service until 2015, and the estimated cost of building and maintaining the fleet of aircraft over its lifespan of more than 30 years has risen from $589 billion in 2005 to about a trillion dollars now.

RISING COSTS, GROWING FRUSTRATION

Rising costs and production delays at a time of growing fiscal constraints in Washington have led to frustration with the program at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill.

After a program review last year, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates put the Marine Corps version of the plane on two years probation, saying it should be canceled unless technical and production problems could be fixed.

He also delayed production of 124 planes over two years, dashing Lockheed's hopes of ramping up assembly and gaining economies of scale that would help drive down costs.

Senator John McCain, a sharp critic of the F-35 overruns, nearly won approval in June for a measure that would have killed the entire program if its costs were 10 percent above the target price at the end of 2012.

"We have to fix the weapons acquisition culture ... in the Pentagon that allows this continuation of over-cost, overspending," he told the Reuters Washington Summit. "It's a culture ... that allows us to have the first trillion-dollar weapons system -- the F-35."

With Congress looking for ways to trim projected spending, some have asked whether one of the variants should be cut.

General Martin Dempsey told the House Armed Services Committee last month that having "three variants ... creates some fiscal challenges for us" and wondered "whether we can afford all three."

Hellman said he wouldn't be surprised if one F-35 variant was terminated - probably the Marine Corps version due to its technical challenges - or a 30 percent to 40 percent reduction in the number of aircraft purchased.

"We're already buying Joint Strike Fighters. We'll continue to buy Joint Strike Fighters. The question is how many and which kind," he said. "I do think it's on Panetta's short list if he has to start pulling rabbits out of his hat for deficit reduction."

Those scenarios worry Lockheed, which is counting on the F-35 for about 20 percent of its revenues.

Marine Corps General James Amos, whose service needs the vertical-landing version for its short-decked amphibious assault ships, is still fighting to fund the aircraft.

"To do the things that our nation requires of the Marine Corps, we need this airplane," he said.

FLEET CONTINUES TO GROW

As the budget debate intensifies, Lockheed continues to build and hand over a growing fleet of F-35s to the military. One hundred and seventeen of the aircraft have been delivered or are on order.

The first plane for an international partner -- the United Kingdom -- rolled off Lockheed's Fort Worth production line Sunday evening. And with more planes in the air, the F-35 program has completed its flight-test targets for 2011.

More and more pilots have had a chance to fly the plane. Many of them like what they see.

The Marines' Kelly, who has flown the F-35 to 1.2 times the speed of sound and conducted aerial maneuvers that put up to seven times the force of gravity on its airframe, said he found it similar to the Boeing F/A-18 fighter he regularly flies.

The difference is in the F-35's integrated electronics.

While the military upgrades electronics on its older jets, the chance to design a new plane let them go back to the drawing board and integrate the sensors in a way that multiplies their impact - like having an iPhone instead of a separate cellphone, music player and Internet browser.

The result, pilots said, is a quantum leap in capacity.

"There is no comparison between an F-35 and an F-18 in terms of war-fighting capability," Kelly said. "The avionics and the radar, the sensors and the ability to precision target your weapons in a stealth platform is something the F-18 just doesn't do, just can't do."

http://www.trust.org

Wyoming-based pilot part of group flying those in need

DOUGLAS, Wyo. — The sun seems to be taking its time rising into the morning sky over the Converse County Airport as Daleray Madewell begins his day.  Perhaps the sun is slowed by the chill of the changing seasons. Or perhaps it's the anticipation of the life-saving day ahead of him that makes everything seem to go slow.

None of that delays Madewell. He has an appointment to keep on this busy day in mid-October.

Madewell, one of 28 "charity pilots" in Wyoming in the Pilots for Christ program, is off this day to Minnesota.

"There's a young lady that's been sick, I guess, I'm not really sure what's going on," he said as he checked his plane. "She needs to get back to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for treatments or checkups or something.

"A lot of times I don't get too wrapped up in why they're going. That's not really for me to decide."

Madewell makes these transport flights on his own time and on his own dime. He won't take a cent for his services. In fact, he scarcely ever even receives any recognition. But his mindset is to help those in need, no matter what.

In 1985, the Rev. Bill Starrs began a movement to provide free flight service to anyone in serious need. Today, the nondenominational, nonprofit Pilots for Christ has chapters in 16 states and carries sick patients, family members and others in need of emergency assistance all over the country and even internationally.

Madewell joined the Wyoming chapter in 2009.

"I'd always been looking for something like that, (and), of course, there are other (organizations) out there, but Pilots for Christ fits the bill," he said. "Obviously, we run on 100 percent donations, and we don't ask for anything in return from anyone that we fly. Sometimes there are family members that are able to help out, but we never ask for anything from anyone."

The Wyoming chapter is the largest chapter, with 28 members, and serves nearly two times as many patients each year as the rest of the country.

Madewell runs a liquor business, but he doesn't need to be there all the time, so he has the flexibility to get away and make flights.

Fifty miles away, in Casper, a young woman, Heather Street, fights for her life. She has a rare autoimmune disease, brought on by cancer, that is causing her immune system to attack her vital organs. Her inability to fight off infection has caused a series of problems with her lungs, liver and brain.

"The overall concern was are we missing an overall disease that was one thing instead of all of these separate issues that nobody had realized, or were they 20 different things that I really had the misfortune (of having) and had the worst luck in the world?" Street said.

Her mother, Denise Willis, is with Street at the airport when they meet Madewell, who helps them onto the plane with their luggage and two armsful of medical records.

"There are a lot of these folks, I don't know how they would have ever gotten to where they need to go," Madewell said. "The majority of our flights are donated for medical reasons. You know, where there's a will there's always a way, but it sure does lift a huge burden off of them."

Several hours later, after some inclement weather, a little turbulence and a short layover, the trio was finally in Rochester. At the clinic, Street went through several days of testing, ones that she might not have gotten if not for the help of Pilots for Christ.

"Pilots for Christ means to me, basically, a chance at life," Street said. "I mean it's a chance at living longer with my family and my kids."

http://www.postbulletin.com

More tourists head to Caribbean but spend less

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — It's a good news-bad news deal for tourism in the sun-soaked Caribbean. Visits are surging but revenues are not keeping pace.

Analysts attribute the rising number of visitors to more cruise ships and flights to the region, and people taking trips they had postponed because of the economic crisis. But when they get to their destination, Caribbean officials say, tourists are spending less.

"The bodies are traveling, obviously, but the spending is clearly impacted," said Josef Forstmayr, president of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Organization. "The larger destinations have it a little easier. They have more resources, they get better airlift, they have better products."

Caribbean countries such as the Bahamas, St. Lucia and the Dominican Republic announced a record number of visitors last year. Caribbean tourism officials hope to surpass the more than 23 million visitors reported last year this winter season.

Registration for the Caribbean Marketplace, the region's largest marketing event that will be held in the Bahamas in late January and aims to create vacation packages, is up by nearly 50 percent compared with last year, Forstmayr said.

"We expect a strong winter," he said. "Overall bookings from all the islands are up from last year."

New routes announced by the airline JetBlue from Puerto Rico to St. Thomas and to St. Maarten also could bring additional visitors, said Gilda Gumbs-Samuel, executive director of the Anguilla Hotel and Tourism Association.

Anguilla, a speck of an island in the eastern Caribbean, saw a record double-digit increase in tourists last year.

The cruise ship industry also promises to draw in thousands of tourists this winter, said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of CruiseCritic.com.

Last winter, cruise lines withdrew their ships from the Caribbean and placed them in the Mediterranean, hoping to attract a wealthy European market.

"That was a radical experiment, and it failed," Spencer Brown said. "So the ships are back in the Caribbean this year."

Puerto Rico, a cruise-ship hub, anticipates a 20 percent increase in visits, bolstered by the new arrival of the Celebrity Silhouette line that is expected to generate $3.6 million in revenue during the winter season, said Jose Perez-Riera, the U.S. territory's Commerce and Economic Development Secretary.

But industry officials say the rising number of visitors is not converting into increased revenue.

Spencer Brown noted that tourists are demanding cheaper prices and scrutinizing deals before buying anything.

"People are very quirky these days about value for money," she said. "They'll splurge for it, but it better be worth it."

Constance Knoll, 64, of St. Louis, Missouri, said she and her husband saved up for an upcoming Caribbean cruise, paying less than $3,000 for the weeklong trip in December.

But unlike many other tourists this winter, they agreed to not set a budget during the trip.

"When it's vacation, you don't have to think that way," she said. "If you want it, you can have it. Life is short. And we're in our 60s now, so life is even shorter."

The economic crisis forced people to postpone their vacations for a few years, and while demand for travel has risen, tourists will not be able to afford much, said Evridiki Tsounta, an economist with the International Monetary Fund.

Spending is tight amid the ongoing economic crisis, and tourists are cutting back on transportation, food and entertainment, said Winfield Griffith, research director for the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

Visitors, especially repeat ones, are increasingly choosing to board public buses instead of hailing taxis to visit popular attractions, and they are buying food and liquor at supermarkets instead of eating out, he said.

They also are booking outings through small, local operators instead of relying on hotels or buying pricey packages, Griffith said.

They know the drill," he said. "In Barbados, for instance, you can pay $2 by public transport to go anywhere in the country. To go around the country by taxi would probably run you in the neighborhood of $150. That's a massive difference."

Last year, tourists across the Caribbean spent $22.3 billion, compared with a record $27 billion spent in 2007, said Sean Smith, statistics specialist with the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

The biggest drop in expenditures in the last decade was reported in 2002, with $18.9 billion spent, he said.

The IMF has encouraged the Caribbean to diversify and seek other tourism markets, especially in Latin America, where the economy has been rebounding, Tsounta said in a phone interview.

"Given that both the U.S. and the U.K. are not faring very well, and the outlook is not very rosy moving forward, it will be hard for things to revert quickly," she said.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com

Letter to the Editor: Airport Meeting Not to be Missed. East Hampton (KHTO), New York.


Dear Editor,

I read with interest the article by Kathryn Menu regarding an upcoming meeting at East Hampton Town Hall on December 1st to discuss FAA funding for EH Airport. It is not often one writes East Hampton Airport and good news in the same sentence, but, in this case, there might be good news if Sag Harbor and Southampton residents — and those farther afield troubled by airport noise — attend that meeting in large numbers.

Those of us unfortunate enough to live under the favored western flight path of aircraft heading to the city, Westchester and Dutchess counties rarely have the opportunity to be heard on the noise issue, despite the fact that so much of the noise and pollution generated by East Hampton airport is borne by Southampton and North Fork residents.

This public meeting on December 1st in East Hampton will therefore provide the disenfranchised residents of Bridgehampton, Noyac, Sagaponack, Sag Harbor, North Sea, Shelter Island and the North Fork with what appears to be the last chance to voice their opinion on whether or not East Hampton should take F.A.A. funds and in doing so, set into motion already F.A.A-approved expansion plans for the airport. It appears clear now that, if East Hampton accepts F.A.A. money, then increased volumes of air traffic — over and above the conservative forecast of 9% increase per year — will likely blight our days and nights for years to come. For 20 years in fact, through 2034.

Given that horrendous possibility, the 7:00 p.m. meeting on Thursday December 1st at the new East Hampton Town Hall on Pantigo Road is a date not to be missed. Let’s hope that Southampton Town Board members and other officials from the North and South Fork will attend this meeting to support long suffering residents.

Patricia Currie

Sag Harbor

http://sagharboronline.com

http://www.airnav.com/airport/HTO

Airlines cut small jets as fuel prices soar

MINNEAPOLIS -- The little planes that connect America's small cities to the rest of the world are slowly being phased out.

Airlines are getting rid of these planes - their least-efficient - in response to the high cost of fuel. Delta, United Continental, and other big airlines are expected to park, scrap or sell hundreds of jets with 50 seats or fewer in coming years. Small propeller planes are meeting the same fate.

The loss of those planes is leaving some little cities with fewer flights or no flights at all.

The Airports Council International says 27 small airports in the continental U.S., including St. Cloud, Minn., and Oxnard, Calif., have lost service from well-known commercial airlines over the last two years. More shutdowns are planned.

Travelers in cities that have lost service now must drive or take buses to larger airports. That adds time and stress to travel. St. Cloud lost air service at the end of 2009 after Delta eliminated flights on 34-seat turboprops. Now, passengers from the city of 66,000 have a 90-minute drive to the Minneapolis airport 65 miles to the southeast.

Roger Geraets, who works for an online education company based near St. Cloud., flies at least twice a month from Minneapolis. He used to connect from St. Cloud. Now he drives, leaving an extra half hour for bad traffic. There are other headaches. Parking at St. Cloud was free, but in Minneapolis it costs $14 per day. And getting through airport security in Minneapolis takes longer.

Another city without service is Oxnard, 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles, which lost three daily turboprop flights operated on behalf of United. The airport's website advises travelers to catch a bus to Los Angeles International Airport.

Atilla Taluy, a tax preparer who lives in Oxnard, ends up driving or taking the shuttle to Los Angeles. "In morning traffic, it becomes quite a burdensome trip," he says.

Pierre, S.D., will lose Delta flights to Minneapolis in mid-January. Pierre officials are waiting to find out whether those flights will be replaced or whether the city will be left with only Great Lakes Airlines flights to Denver. The Denver flights add almost 600 miles in the wrong direction for people who want to fly from South Dakota's capital to Washington, D.C.

"I don't know if they really care about (passengers) in the small markets," says Rick Steece, a consultant for the Centers for Disease Control who travels overseas from Pierre two to three times a year.

In the late 1990s, when jet fuel cost one-fourth of today's prices, the small jets and turboprops were a profitable way for airlines to connect people in small cities to the rest in the world. The flights attracted business travelers who tended to pay more for tickets.

Airlines loved the planes. Bombardier and Embraer sold more than 1,900 50-seat jets during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

"We all got carried away with it," says Glen W. Hauenstein, Delta's executive vice president for network planning, revenue management and marketing.

Then jet fuel prices soared. They're at $3.16 per gallon today, up from 78 cents in 2000. That's changed the economics of small planes.

For airlines, it all comes down to spreading fuel costs among passengers. A Delta 50-seat CRJ-200 made by Bombardier takes 19 gallons of fuel to fly each passenger 500 miles. Fuel usage drops to just 7.5 gallons per passenger on Delta's 160-seat MD-90s over the same distance.

So while the bigger jet burns more fuel overall, it's more efficient.

Delta is moving away from small jets more aggressively than other airlines. It will eliminate 121 50-seat jets from October 2008 through the end of next year. That will leave it with 324.

Lynchburg, Va., lost Delta's three daily flights on 50-seat jets earlier this year, although US Airways still flies similar jets there.

Airport manager Mark Courtney says Delta also served nearby Roanoke and Charlottesville, Va., each about 60 miles away, so it may have figured its Lynchburg customers will drive to those cities to catch a flight.

Lynchburg is the home of the 2,000 workers for French nuclear services company Areva, and its largest international destination had been Paris by way of Delta's Atlanta hub, Courtney says.

Some Delta routes served by 50-seaters are getting bigger planes instead. Delta's Atlanta-Des Moines flights are on larger MD-88s, which seat 142, and it has shifted the mix toward larger planes between Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala., Nashville, and Savannah, Ga., too.

United Continental Holdings Inc. still has 354 50-seat jets. But that number is expected to shrink, said Greg Hart, the airline's senior vice president of network.

Continental's effort to get rid of its 37-seat planes shows how eager airlines are to quit flying them. It has 30 of the jets under lease, some until 2018. Twenty-five are grounded. The rest are subleased for $6 million less than Continental is paying for them.

American Eagle, which feeds traffic to its corporate sibling American Airlines, owns 39 of the same 37-seaters . But 17 of them were parked as of the end of last year. Parent company AMR Corp. had been trying to sell some of those planes in 2009 but couldn't get any buyers.

Many travelers won't miss the small jets.

One of them, Tony Diaz, is a technology support manager from Dallas. He was changing planes in Minneapolis on his way to Moline, Ill. The second leg was a small Delta jet.

"The larger planes are definitely better to ride in," he said, glancing down at his larger-than-average frame.

There's still a market for larger jets, which allow airlines to spread out fuel costs.

Nearly all so-called regional jets sold between 2010 and 2019 are expected to have 51 seats or more - with the biggest category being jets with 76 to 130 seats, according to Forecast International.

"More of those are going to see the skies," said aviation consultant Mike Boyd. But those aluminum-skinned 50-seaters will be scrapped for parts. "They're on their way to the Budweiser display."

http://www.bnd.com

Diamond DA20-C1 Eclipse, North Star Aviation Inc., N203MK: Fatal accident occurred November 23, 2011 in Athens, Wisconsin

National Transportation Safety Board - Aviation Accident Final Report: http://app.ntsb.gov/pdf

National Transportation Safety Board  -   Docket And Docket Items:   http://dms.ntsb.gov/pubdms

National Transportation Safety Board  -  Aviation Accident Data Summary:   http://app.ntsb.gov/pdf

http://registry.faa.gov/N203MK

NTSB Identification: CEN12FA080
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, November 23, 2011 in Bern, WI
Probable Cause Approval Date: 02/03/2014
Aircraft: DIAMOND AIRCRAFT IND INC DA 20-C1, registration: N203MK
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The non-instrument-rated pilot checked the weather prior to the night cross-country flight. Two other pilots, who individually discussed the weather conditions with the pilot, reported that the weather appeared to be deteriorating for his intended route of flight. The accident pilot stated to the other pilots that he would "scud run," or fly below the weather, if he had to. Weather conditions at the departure airport were clear, but deteriorated to instrument meteorological conditions along the route of flight. Based on the weather information, the pilot likely flew into an area of instrument meteorological conditions and lost control. The airplane impacted trees and terrain about 22 miles from the destination airport. Conditions at the destination airport, which was the nearest weather observation station, around the time of the accident included 3-mile visibility with mist and an overcast ceiling at 500 feet. No mechanical failures or malfunctions were identified that would have precluded normal operation of the airplane.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The non-instrument-rated pilot's continued visual flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in a loss of control and subsequent impact with the terrain.

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On November 23, 2011, about 2250 central standard time, a Diamond DA20-C1, N203MK, registered to North Star Aviation collided with trees and the terrain in a heavily wooded area in Bern, Wisconsin. The private pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was substantially damaged. The personal flight was being operated under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Instrument meteorological conditions existed in the area at the time of the accident and no flight plan was filed. The flight originated from the Mankato Regional Airport (MKT), Mankato, Minnesota, about 2130, with an intended destination of the Merrill Municipal Airport (RRL), Merrill, Wisconsin.

The pilot worked as a line person at the North Star Aviation at MKT. He worked on November 23, 2011, and was scheduled to finish his shift at 2100. According to witnesses, the pilot was planning on departing for RRL as soon as he finished his work shift.

A co-worker stated that the pilot checked the weather for the flight prior to 1900. He stated that they looked at the weather together and that it “…did not look suitable for his trip.” The co-worker reported that the pilot told him he would “scud run it” if he had to. He stated the pilot was in rush and that he wanted to takeoff as soon as possible after his work shift ended.

The chief flight instructor at North Star Aviation stated he spoke with the pilot at 2039 and the pilot relayed to him that the weather looked good for his flight.

Another pilot who had initially planned to fly a portion of the flight with the accident pilot stated that their plans to fly together changed when the accident pilot’s work schedule changed. This pilot reported that they spoke about the weather and he told the accident pilot that the weather was going to worsen later in the night. He reported that the accident pilot stated to him that the weather should be fine and if the ceilings got too low he would just “scud run it.”

No one witnessed the pilot taking off from MKT. According to Marathon County Sheriff’s Department, the pilot sent a text message to a family member around 2230 stating that he would be landing at 2247. The airplane was reported missing on November 24, 2011. The pilot was not in contact with air traffic control during the flight. A search of radar data revealed radar returns which matched the time and projected flight path for the trip from MKT to RRL. The radar returns showed a target at 7,400 feet about 26 miles from the accident site. The last radar return was at 2238 at an altitude of 3,400 feet about 18 miles southwest of the accident site.

The wreckage was located at 2048 in a wooded area about 22 miles west-southwest of RRL, and 1.2 miles south of a direct path between MKT and RRL.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with airplane single-engine land, multi-engine land, and single-engine sea ratings. The pilot was issued a first-class medical certificate on October 29, 2010, with the restriction that he must wear corrective lenses.

The pilot’s logbook contained flights dated from September 1, 2010, to November 23, 2011. The logbook indicated the pilot had a total flight time of 175.5 hours. The pilot had logged 96.1 hours of flight time in Diamond DA20 airplanes.

According to the pilot’s flight instructor, the pilot was in the process of receiving instruction toward an instrument rating. The pilot’s flight instructor stated that they were still working on practicing instrument approaches. He stated that they had a flight lesson on the morning of the accident flight and that the accident pilot was an average to above average student. The pilot’s logbook indicated the pilot had a total actual instrument flight time of 3.2 hours and a total simulated flight time of 32.1 hours. The pilot had logged a total of 22.6 hours of night flight time.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The accident airplane was a Diamond DA20- C1, serial number C0403, registered to North Star Aviation. It was a two-place, low-wing, single-engine airplane with fixed landing gear. The airframe was primarily constructed of composite materials. The airplane was equipped with a 125 horsepower Continental Motors IO-240-B (17) engine, serial number 350506.

Maintenance records indicate the last annual inspection was completed on October 10, 2011, at an airframe and engine total time of 2,994.1 hours, and a recording hour meter (hobbs) time of 642 hours. The last 100 hour inspection was completed on November 16, 2011, at an airframe and engine total time of 3,092.0 hours, and a hobbs time of 773.8 hours.

According to fueling records, the airplane was last fueled on November 23, 2011, at 1750 with 8.7 gallons of 100LL aviation fuel.

A flight log was located in the wreckage. The log indicated the airplane’s last flight prior to the accident was on November 22, 2011.  The ending hobbs time associated with the flight was listed as 790.0 and the tachometer time was listed as 3,105.3 hours. The hobbs time at the time of the accident was 791.5 and the tachometer time was 3,106.8 hours.

METEOROLOGICAL CONDITIONS

According to a witness the pilot used the computer at North Star Aviation to check the weather conditions earlier in the evening on the day of the flight. North Star Aviation uses the MX Vision Aviation Sentry system for obtaining weather data. Discussion with personnel from MX Aviation Sentry revealed that they cannot retrieve data that was requested for a weather briefing. Therefore, it could not be determined exactly what weather data the pilot retrieved for the flight.

Several recorded surface weather observations were reviewed. Those observations were as follows:

RLL, 22 miles east-northeast of the accident site, reported the conditions at 2255 were wind from 240 degrees at 8 knots; visibility 3 miles with mist; ceiling 500 overcast; temperature 2 degrees Celsius; dew point 2 degree Celsius, and altimeter 30.07 inches of mercury.

Wausau Downtown Airport (AUW), Wausau, Wisconsin, 27 miles southeast of the accident site, reported the conditions at 2254 were wind from 230 degrees at 6 knots; visibility 5 miles with mist; ceiling 700 overcast; temperature 3 degrees Celsius; dew point 1 degree Celsius, and altimeter 30.07 inches of mercury.

Wausau- Central Wisconsin Airport (CWA), Wausau, Wisconsin, 31 miles southeast of the accident site, reported the conditions at 2255 were wind from 230 degrees at 7 knots; visibility 5 miles with mist; ceiling 600 overcast; temperature 2 degrees Celsius; dew point 2 degree Celsius, and altimeter 30.09 inches of mercury.

Chippewa Valley Regional Airport (EAU), Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 68 miles west-southwest of the accident site reported the conditions at 2156 were wind from 180 degrees at 5 knots; visibility 5 miles with mist; clear skies; temperature 2 degrees Celsius; dew point 1 degree Celsius, and altimeter 30.06 inches of mercury.

The departure airport, MKT, reported the conditions at 2135 were wind from 190 degrees at 8 knots; visibility 5 miles; clear skies; temperature 3 degrees Celsius; dew point 1 degree Celsius, and altimeter 30.05 inches of mercury.

Airmen’s Meteorological Information (AIRMET) Sierra, issued at 1836, was in effect at the time of the accident. The AIRMET called for instrument meteorological conditions with ceilings below 1,000 feet and visibilities below 3 miles with mist and fog. The AIRMET encompassed the location of the accident.

Radiosonde data from the Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB), Green Bay, Wisconsin, at 1800 indicated the cloud tops were around 2,300 feet.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The airplane impacted the terrain in a heavily wooded area which contained trees in excess of 60 feet tall. The airplane traveled about 350 feet through the trees on a magnetic heading of 84 degrees prior to coming to rest. Trees along the wreckage path were broken along a descent angle of about 30 degrees.

The first impact mark was with a tree at a height of 40 feet above the ground. A section of the right wing flap and pieces of the canopy were located near the initial tree strike. A piece of one wooden propeller blade was located about 50 feet from the initial tree strike. Sections of the elevator were located about 75 feet from the initial tree strike. The majority of the right wing and a section of the rudder were located within the first 150 feet of the wreckage path. The first identifiable ground scar was about 175 feet from the initial tree impact. Sections of the fuselage, cockpit, engine cowl, and propeller were located near the initial ground scar. The engine was separated from the fuselage and it was located about 50 feet from the main wreckage. The propeller spinner and nose gear were located near the engine.

Airframe

The main portion of the fuselage was located on its right side with the left wing lying nearby. Both main landing gears remained attached to the fuselage. The canopy was completely separated from the fuselage. The fuselage area was separated just aft of the wing attach point. The empennage was separated 3 feet forward of the vertical stabilizer. The fuel tank was compromised and empty of fuel. The emergency locator transmitter was separated from the wreckage.

The propeller hub was separate from the engine at the crankshaft with pieces of the wooden propeller blades attached in the hub. The majority of both propeller blades were separated and found along the wreckage path. The tips of both blades were not located.

The empennage was separated into numerous pieces. The rudder was partially separated from the vertical stabilizer. The right horizontal stabilizer was separated from the empennage. The outboard 2/3 of the elevator remained attached to the horizontal stabilizer. The left horizontal stabilizer was fractured and separated from the empennage. The elevator remained intact except for the inboard section. Continuity was established between the cockpit control stick and the elevator push/pull tube in the aft fuselage at which point the tubes were broken and separated. The rudder cables were attached to the rudder pedals in the fuselage. Continuity was established aft to where the cables were separated from the rudder surface. Both rudder cables exhibited broomstraw separations.

The left wing was located near the nose of the airplane. The flap was separated into three pieces and the aileron was separated into two pieces. The leading edge outboard section of the wing was ripped and shredded aft to the main spar.

The right wing was separated into four sections which were located along the wreckage path. The aileron was separated into three pieces; a one-foot-long outboard section was not located. The flap was separated from the wing in two pieces.

Aileron continuity was established from the control stick to aft of the cockpit bulkhead. One push-pull control tube for the right aileron was separated and missing, and the other was separated near the wing root. Both tubes for the left aileron were present. One was separated at the mixing unit in the fuselage and the other remained attached at the mixing unit. Sections of push/pull tubes were located amongst the wreckage. It was not identified which control surfaces the tubes were for.

The power lever was in the idle position, the mixture control was full rich, and the alternate air lever was in the closed position.

Engine

The crankshaft propeller flange was fractured and remained attached to the separated propeller. All of the cylinders remained attached to the crankcase. The rocker arms and rocker arm covers for the intake valve on the number 2 and number 3 cylinders were missing.

Both magnetos and the vacuum pump were separated from the engine. The right magneto sustained impact damage. The magneto was disassembled and no anomalies were noted. The left magneto was fractured into several pieces.

All of the spark plugs exhibited normal operating signatures.

A portion of the mixture control cable remained attached to the mixture control lever; the mixture control lever was observed near the lean position and it moved freely. The fuel pump drive coupling was intact and the fuel pump drive moved freely by hand. The fuel pump was disassembled and no anomalies were noted.

The fuel manifold valve was disassembled and the fuel screen was clean. The diaphragm was intact and the diaphragm retaining nut was secure. No scoring was observed on the fuel valve assembly. The fuel injector lines remained attached to their respective fuel injector nozzles. Fuel nozzles 1, 2, and 3 were clear of obstructions. Fuel nozzle 4 had sustained impact damage.

The fuel control throttle lever and throttle plate were observed near the idle position.

The oil filter was separated from the engine. The filter was opened and it was free of debris.

The cylinders, pistons, and intake and exhaust valves were examined with a boroscope. All of the cylinders and valves exhibited normal operating signatures with no scoring. The crankshaft was rotated by hand and thumb compression and suction were obtained on all of the cylinders.

The vacuum pump sustained impact damage. The drive shaft was fractured. The vacuum pump housing was breached and fragments of the vacuum pump rotor exited the pump through the breach when the pump was handled.

No anomalies were identified with the engine or its components that would have prevented normal operation.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

An autopsy was performed on the pilot at the University of Wisconsin, School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, Wisconsin, on November 25, 2011. The death of the pilot was attributed to injuries sustained in the accident.

Toxicology testing for the pilot was performed by the Federal Aviation Administration Civil Aerospace Medical Institute. The test results were negative for all substances tested.


 NTSB Identification: CEN12FA080 
 14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, November 23, 2011 in Athens, WI
Aircraft: DIAMOND AIRCRAFT IND INC DA 20-C1, registration: N203MK
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On November 23, 2011, about 2250 central standard time, a Diamond DA20 C-1, N203MK, registered to North Star Aviation collided with trees and the terrain in a heavily wooded area in Athens, Wisconsin. The private pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was substantially damaged. The personal flight was being operated under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Instrument meteorological conditions existed in the area at the time of the accident and no flight plan was filed. The flight originated from the Mankato Regional Airport (MKT), Mankato, Minnesota, about 1930, with an intended destination of the Merrill Municipal Airport (RRL), Merrill, Wisconsin.

The pilot worked on the flight line at the North Star Aviation at MKT. He worked on November 23, 2011, and was scheduled to finish his shift at 2100. According to witnesses, the pilot had planned on departing for RRL at the completion of work shift.

The pilot was not in contact with air traffic control during the accident flight. A search of radar data revealed primary radar returns which matched the time and projected flight path for the trip from MKT to RRL. The last radar return was at 2238 at an altitude of 3,400 feet and about 18 miles southwest of the accident site.

The airplane was reported missing on November 24, 2011. It was located later that same day in a wooded area approximately 22 miles southwest of RRL. The accident site contained trees in excess of 60 feet tall. The airplane had traveled about 350 feet through the trees prior to coming to rest.

The pilot was a private pilot with single and multi-engine land ratings. He was in the process of working on his instrument rating.

A review of the recorded surface observation weather data from RLL, 22 miles northeast of the accident site, revealed the conditions at 2255 were wind from 240 degrees at 8 knots; visibility 3 miles with mist; ceiling 500 overcast; temperature 2 degrees Celsius; dew point 2 degree Celsius, and altimeter 30.07 inches of mercury.

A review of the recorded surface observation weather data from AUW, 27 miles southeast of the accident site, revealed the conditions at 2254 were wind from 230 degrees at 6 knots; visibility 5 miles with mist; ceiling 700 overcast; temperature 3 degrees Celsius; dew point 1 degree Celsius, and altimeter 30.07 inches of mercury.


IDENTIFICATION
  Regis#: 203MK        Make/Model: DA20      Description: DIAMOND DA 20-C1
  Date: 11/24/2011     Time: 0430

  Event Type: Accident   Highest Injury: Fatal     Mid Air: N    Missing: N
  Damage: Unknown

LOCATION
  City: ATHENS   State: WI   Country: US

DESCRIPTION
  AIRCRAFT CRASHED UNDER UNKNOWN CIRCUMSTANCES, THE 1 PERSON ON BOARD WAS 
  FATALLY INJURED, SUBJECT OF AN ALERT NOTICE, WRECKAGE LOCATED NEAR ATHENS, 
  WI

INJURY DATA      Total Fatal:   1
                 # Crew:   1     Fat:   1     Ser:   0     Min:   0     Unk:    
                 # Pass:   0     Fat:   0     Ser:   0     Min:   0     Unk:    
                 # Grnd:         Fat:   0     Ser:   0     Min:   0     Unk:    


OTHER DATA
  Activity: Unknown      Phase: Unknown      Operation: OTHER


  FAA FSDO: MILWAUKEE, WI  (GL13)                 Entry date: 11/25/2011 
 
 
BERN — A 24-year-old Merrill man is dead after a plane he piloted was found Thanksgiving night crashed in a rural area northwest of the village of Athens, according to the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department.

The wreckage of a single engine, DA20 Diamond airplane was found just before 8:30 p.m. scattered across an acre of wooded land in the 6900 block of Lovers Lane in the town of Bern near the Marathon County-Taylor County border, Sheriff’s Lt. Randy Albert said this morning. The pilot was the only person on board and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police plan to release the pilot’s name tonight after his family has been notified.

The cause of the crash is not yet known. Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are expected to arrive later this morning at the scene of the crash to begin the investigation.

A person called the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department at 2:30 p.m. Thursday to report that their nephew’s plane had left the Mankato, Minn. Airport Wednesday night but had not yet arrived, Albert said.

The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. was called to coordinate the search and used FAA radar to show that that the plane last appeared on radar near Gunner Field, a landing strip northwest of Athens, Albert said.

After the plane’s last known location was discovered, the Athens Fire Department was called at about 6:15 p.m. to begin searching.

The search was difficult because it was dark, there were no flames from the wreckage and the terrain was heavily wooded and wet, Albert said. Police also did not have any citizen reports of a plane crash or a plane having a mechanical problem, he said

Athens Fire Chief Ronald Lavicka said Thursday night it was a “stroke of luck” that the plane was found. About 26 rescuers were walking through the woods and happened upon the wreckage. The crash happened in a rural area near highways 97 and F, and rescue crews used utility vehicles to get to a wooded area where the plane went down.

The plane also had a Minnesota State University logo on the tail, Albert said. The university is in Mankato.

Minnesota State University has an aviation training program, but uses planes owned by North Star Aviation in Mankato, University, media relations director Michael Cooper said this morning. The planes have university logos, but the students have a contract with North Star Aviation for use and training with the planes, Cooper said.

“We are certainly saddened by this tragedy,” Cooper said.

Search continues for pilot of helicopter that crashed into Ten Mile Lake, Minnesota

The passenger was able to get to shore, but the pilot and the helicopter remain missing as of this morning.

HACKENSACK — Cass County emergency personnel on Friday morning continued a search that began Thanksgiving night for a helicopter and its pilot that crashed into Ten Mile Lake in Hiram Township of Cass County.

The Cass County Sheriff’s Department was alerted to the crash at about 7 p.m. Thursday by a 911 call from a helicopter passenger who was able to get to shore.

Cass County Sheriff's Office deputies, State Patrol, Walker police officers, Minnesota DNR conservation officers, Leech Lake tribal officers, Leech Lake conservation officers, Hackensack Fire and Rescue, Hackensack First Responders and North Ambulance responded to the scene.

Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch said Thursday night that details were difficult to pin down because the injured helicopter passenger was being transported to a hospital.

Passengers flying to London Heathrow warned they could be held on planes for TWELVE HOURS when British workers strike next Wednesday

Air travelers heading to London next week have been warned they should change their plans or prepare for long delays due to a strike by Britain's immigration officials.

Heathrow Airport bosses said that arriving passengers, including those from the United States, could be held on planes for a staggering 12 hours in the chaos following the November 30 strike.

The planned action, part of a nationwide protest by public sector workers over proposed changes to pensions, could lead to 'very long delays' and 'mass cancellations of departing aircraft'.

Operating chiefs at the airport - Europe's busiest - said: ‘There are likely to be very long delays of up to 12 hours to arriving passengers.

'The delays at immigration are likely to be so long that passengers could not be safely accommodated within the terminals and would need to be held on arriving aircraft.

‘This in turn would quickly create gridlock at the airport with no available aircraft parking stands, mass cancellations or departing aircraft and diversions outside the UK for arriving aircraft.’

The warning came in a letter from the airport's chief operating officer Normand Boivin to all airlines which fly to Heathrow.

He added the airport 'may also be obliged to advise arriving passengers... that they should avoid arriving into the UK on November 30 unless absolutely necessary'.

The British Government has already pledged civil servants and other inexperienced workers to man the country's ports and airports when immigration staff walk out.

But it is predicted that the strike will still affect international passengers arriving into all UK airports.

Disruption at Heathrow is expected to be particularly severe because almost 100 long-haul services plan to arrive before 9 a.m. local time on the day of the strike.

Heathrow Airport handles 180,000 passengers on a typical day, according to BAA. Its most popular destination is New York's JFK Airport.

Gatwick Airport also warned passengers to be prepared for 'significant disruption' at immigration and said it had asked carriers to give passengers the chance to change their flights.

Airlines have also expressed their concern over the predicted chaos following next week's strikes.

British Airways, which flies from more than 200 airports in the United States, warned there could be 'a significant risk of severe delays in passing through passport control'.

A spokesperson added: 'We are concerned that the strike on November 30 creates considerable uncertainty for our customers booked to fly into UK airports on that day.

'We are doing everything that we can to protect our customers and continue to liaise closely with Government, the UK Border Agency and airport authorities about possible contingencies.'

A Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman said: 'We are very concerned about the effect next week's strike will have on passengers and airport operators. Britain cannot afford to be closed for business.

'To reduce the number of passengers coming into UK airports and to minimise disruption to our passengers, we will allow those booked on inbound travel on November 30 to rebook for travel up to four days earlier or later without charge.

'Along with airport operators, other airlines and the wider aviation industry, we are continuing discussions with the Government and the UK Border Agency about possible contingencies.'

On the Heathrow disruption, the UK Border Agency said: ‘The security of the UK border remains our top priority and it is absolutely right we explore all options to ensure we minimize any disruption caused by planned union action.’

BAA, the owner of Heathrow airport, has told airlines to fly planes half full to help ease the chaos expected when immigration officers walk out.

Twenty-nine unions are taking part in Wednesday’s walkout, including teachers, nurses, paramedics, top civil servants and tax inspectors. Up to two million workers are expected to walk out over proposed changes to pensions.

It is set to be the biggest since the General Strike of 1926 - and union barons said it was fantasy to think it would be a one-off.

Paul Kenny, general secretary of trade union the GMB said the strikes would continue into 2012 in the bitter dispute over pensions.

‘It is Alice in Wonderland stuff to think that 30 November will happen, people will stop work, take part in rallies, go home and say: “That was all right. Now we can give in”. It is just nonsense.’

It is feared that more than £500million in output will be lost and jobs could be axed at a time when unemployment is at a 17-year high of 2.6million.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: 'Clearly we're going to do everything we can - notwithstanding the terrible disruption and, frankly, cost to the economy these strikes will create - to make sure that systems, including our borders are properly policed and properly controlled.

'But my message to the trade union bosses who are corralling their members into conflict is: let the teachers and the nurses and the doctors, and so on, let everybody take a bit of time to look at the information that we've provided on our Government website so people can look for themselves at what we're offering.

'Actually what we're offering is reasonable and generous. We're saying all your pension entitlements you've got until now will be protected; if you're going to retire within 10 years there will be no change; if you're on a low or middle income your pension will be the same, if not better than it was before.

'I think the trade union bosses are really doing a disservice - obviously to the public - but also to their own members by not allowing their members to make up their own minds based on the information that we're providing in our reasonable offer from the Government.'

BRITISH STRIKES: Q&A

Q: Who is striking?

A: Twenty-nine unions are taking part in the walkout, including teachers, nurses, paramedics, top civil servants and tax inspectors.

Q: How many workers is that?

A: One of the country's trade unions, the GMB, predicts up to two million workers could walk out.

Q: What will be affected?

A: Most schools will be closed, bins will not be collected, hospital operations will be cancelled and the elderly may go unfed in hospitals.

Q: What is the financial bill?

A: It is feared that more than £500million in output will be lost.

Q: Why are they striking?

A: The British government wants public workers to pay more into their pensions, get a lower payout and retire at a later age.

Q: What does the government say?

A: Ministers say it is wrong to strike over pensions that were much more generous than those in the private sector. The public sector pensions bill is around £32billion a year, with workers contributing £5.5billion a year and the rest paid by the taxpayer.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk