Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Alaska’s outdated maps make flying a peril, but high-tech fix is gaining ground

MYSTIC PASS, Alaska -- In the age of Google Earth, it’s tempting to think human knowledge of the world is complete, with no frontiers to be charted. Which is why Alex Stack thought modern technology could get him through the mighty Alaska Range after a successful 2006 moose hunt.

Stack and his buddies Aric Beane and James Eule hit bad weather as they flew home through Mystic Pass, a narrow valley winding through 8,000-foot peaks southwest of Mount McKinley. One minute, the weather was fine; the next, clouds were rolling down the snow-streaked ridges.

“Have you ever been in 100 percent fog? That’s exactly what it’s like,” recalled Eule, an Anchorage surgeon. “You’re flying blind, knowing there’s mountains all around you.”

Alone in a nimble Cessna, Eule was able to turn around. Stack and Beane, in a larger plane carrying most of the 1,000-pound moose, were forced to press on, eyes glued to a handheld GPS screen, praying its fusion of satellite signals and government terrain maps would guide them to safety.

Unfortunately, the maps were wrong.

Alaska, it turns out, has never been mapped to modern standards. While the U.S. Geological Survey is constantly refining its work in the lower 48 states, the terrain data in Alaska is more than 50 years old, much of it hand-sketched from black-and-white stereo photos shot from World War II reconnaissance craft and U-2 spy planes.

Errors abound. Locals tell of mountains as much as a mile out of place. Streams flow uphill, and ridges are missing because a cloud happened by when the photo was taken.

“Mars is better mapped than the state of Alaska,” said Steve Colligan, president of E-Terra, an Anchorage mapping firm that specializes in aviation safety. Thanks to the Pentagon, the wilds of Asia and the Middle East are better mapped, too.

“We have this amazing map of Afghanistan. It’s the most modern geological map ever made,” said Kevin Gallagher, associate director for USGS Core Science Systems. “I would love to invest in America like this.”

Now, Gallagher is getting the chance. The USGS, along with numerous state and federal partners, has launched the 3D Elevation Program, an effort to chart all 50 states with airborne lasers (lidar) or radar (ifsar). The new technology permits astonishingly precise measurements of terrain, buildings and roads, waterways, coastline, even vegetation, right down to individual plants.

“It’s not an image; it’s data. That’s what makes it so powerful,” Gallagher said. “Lidar is like looking at the world through a new set of glasses.”

The technology is transforming archaeology and geology, revealing lost cities in the jungles of Cambodia and Belize and new fault lines under the streets of Seattle. It has guided rescuers after the Oso, Wash., landslide; gauged flood risk in North Carolina; and helped residents decide whether to install solar panels on Manhattan rooftops.

Lidar also has countless commercial applications. A 2012 report on the benefits of better elevation data drew support from Idaho’s J.R. Simplot Co. (precision agriculture), the Mendocino Redwood Co. (timber inventory and landslide avoidance), TomTom (vehicle guidance) and an array of energy firms (windmills, solar farms and oil-well siting).

Gallagher predicts the 3-D program will be as “transformational” to the U.S. economy as the original Army Corps surveys that fueled the Westward expansion in the 1800s. For about $150 million a year, the USGS estimates the new maps could boost government savings and private investment by as much as $13 billion annually.

Because Alaska is so badly mapped, the project kicked off there in the summer of 2010 using ifsar, which is slightly less accurate than lidar but cheaper and able to penetrate clouds. Within months, however, Republicans had won the U.S. House and begun squabbling with President Obama over government spending. The 3-D program has since struggled to gain a toehold in the federal budget as gridlocked policymakers have repeatedly rubber-stamped old spending priorities in quickie budget bills, known as continuing resolutions, or CRs.

The USGS has persevered, cobbling together existing federal funds and money appropriated by desperate Alaska officials. Still, four years later, just half of the state has been mapped and impatient contractors have been flying extra territory on spec in hopes that Congress will finally boost the program’s budget.

“We lobby. I’m sure Fugro lobbies. But as soon as they go to a CR, you’re screwed,” said Ian Wosiski, sales director at Intermap Technologies, which, along with Fugro EarthData, is flying the planes that collect the ifsar data.

“We’re talking about $30 million to finish the state. Thirty million dollars,” Wosiski said. “When you consider all the benefits of the program, it seems like a no-brainer.”

Some argue the project has already paid for itself. A few months after the project’s “skybreaking” at an Anchorage airport, an F-22 Raptor crashed while training in remote territory near Denali National Park. The pilot died on impact, and the plane -- by then a $150 million hunk of hazardous material -- was submerged in a 20-foot crater in a streambed between two ridges.

It was just before Thanksgiving. The mountains were covered with snow, and the days were short, with six hours of sunlight. As the military readied a 33-person recovery team, Army contractor Mike Davis remembered the skybreaking and called to see whether ifsar had been collected over the crash site.

It had. Fugro rushed the raw data to Anchorage, where Davis used it to plot a course for helicopters to land safely without touching off an avalanche.

A mapping specialist from Colorado State University, Davis had been campaigning for better elevation data for at least four years, since the Army began moving Kiowa helicopters to Fort ­Wainwright outside Fairbanks. Though the Pentagon had aerial images of its vast Alaska training fields, Davis said, they were useless to the Kiowas without accurate information about the lay of the land.

“We realized we had elevation errors in the hundreds of feet in our maps,” Davis said. “And now we’ve got all these guys coming in, expecting to train at night and fly map-of-the-earth-type stuff. And the answer was just no.”

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Barents region’s only east-west flight could be grounded in late October

Air carrier Pskovavia’s permission to fly to Tromsø expires in two weeks. Passengers fears the route will be closed since no alternatives exist.

The old An-24 propeller is a well-known aircraft for travelers of the Barents skies. Under different airliner brands, the aircraft has operated the route from Arkhangelsk, via Murmansk to Tromsø for nearly 20 years. In the 1990s and early 2000s the aircraft was also operating the route from Murmansk to Rovaniemi and Luleå.

But it could all end on Oct. 24, the start of the winter-route season. Norwegian aviation authorities has sent a clear message to Pskovavia, a Russian carrier, that it can no longer fly the route, since the license for it belongs to another airliner, Arkhangelsk-based Nordavia.

Confusing history

Nordavia was flying the route with the same aircraft until late 2012, when Pskovavia took over, painted a small version of their logo on the airplane’s nose and continued to fly to Tromsø twice a week. The tickets and marketing, air crew, seats’ upholstery, sugar bags for coffee and the tail of the plane, however, all carry Nordavia's brand.

The tricky operation of the route, with a plane passengers believe belongs to Nordavia, while it is operated by Pskovavia, becomes even more confusing to people looking into the web portals of the two companies. Nordavia sells tickets and lists the route on their arrival and departure information. Pskovavia, on the other hand, has no information about the route to Tromsø in their list of destinations and departure, arrival times.

Intermediate solution

Other aviation portals, like Flightradar24 and Airport-data, list the plane that is operated on the route as registered with Nordavia.

Pskovavia wants to continue their flights between Arkhangelsk, Murmansk and Tromsø, but the Norwegian-Russian civil aviation agreement lists Nordavia as operator of the route.

Bjørn Erlandsen, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority of Norway, told BarentsObserver that they have accepted this as an intermediate solution.

“When the Civil Aviation Authority approved the summer schedules to the company in March, it was clearly said that if Pskovavia should fly the winter schedules instead of Nordavia, we would need a formal approval of the company from Russian authorities in accordance with the air transport agreement,” Erlandsen said.

He said the authority has received an application from Pskovavia for the route, and a note from Nordavia that they have no objections.

Unique route

For passengers, the route is the only one linking northern Norway with northern Russia. Alternative routes would be way longer and far more expensive, flying south to catch a flight between the capitals Oslo and Moscow, before flying north again.

Jonny Andersen is airport director in Tromsø and says the route between Tromsø and Murmansk is unique.

“What we are trying to do here in Tromsø is to build the hub of Barents, the airport hub with connections to all the major cities in the neighboring countries of Finland, Sweden and Russia. Having that route from Tromsø to Murmansk is essential. Without it we have a totally different picture than we have today,” Andersen told BarentsObserver.

“The route is the gateway from Tromsø to Northwest-Russia. I would really like to see more flights per week, even per day. Murmansk is the largest city above the Arctic Circle and, of course, we have to serve that one. Having the possibility to fly to Murmansk is absolutely unique,” Andersen said.

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This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch News as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.

Coming Soon: Japan’s First Airliner in 50 Years • Mitsubishi to Show Off New Regional Jet on Saturday, After a Series of Delays

The Wall Street Journal
Eric Pfanner

Oct. 15, 2014 3:33 p.m. ET

NAGOYA, Japan—In a building where designers once worked on the World War II-era Zero fighter, engineers are toiling away on a new project: Japan’s first commercial airliner in half a century.

Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. is set to show off the new aircraft for the first time on Saturday, after a series of delays. The company has invited government ministers and business partners to Nagoya for a rollout of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, demonstrating its status as a quasi-national project for Japan.

“Many people have been asking, ‘When is your aircraft going to be ready?’” said the company’s president, Teruaki Kawai, in an interview Wednesday. “Now we finally have made the aircraft almost ready to fly.”

The first test flight of the jet, which will be offered initially in versions seating 76 or 88 passengers, is scheduled for the second quarter of next year, with deliveries expected to begin in 2017. But the project, which has generated a modest 375 orders and options, faces growing international competition even before it takes to the runway.

Mr. Kawai says the company, whose controlling shareholder is Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. , aims within the next two decades to grab a 50% share of the global market for regional jets—which are used for short-haul flights and typically seat 70 to 100 passengers. The company predicts that more than 5,000 such aircraft will be delivered world-wide during that stretch.

Rob Morris, head of consultancy at Ascend Flightglobal Consultancy in London, predicted that despite the slow start, Mitsubishi would garner 22%, or $28 billion, of about 4,000 regional jet deliveries world-wide through 2033. That would place Mitsubishi second behind Embraer SA of Brazil, which Ascend forecasts will deliver 61% of jets in the category during that period.

The regional-jet business has long been dominated by Embraer and Bombardier Inc. of Canada, mirroring the duopoly in the market for bigger jets, which is shared by Boeing Co. and Airbus Group NV. Bombardier has been losing ground in regional jets as it invests in development of a new, larger aircraft that would go up against the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A319.

The Mitsubishi jet isn’t the only new entrant. Sukhoi Co. of Russia makes a regional jet and Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China is developing one. But the Sukhoi Super Jet 100 suffered a setback when a demonstration flight crashed in Indonesia two years ago, while the Chinese ARJ21 has yet to be certified by China’s aviation authorities despite having a maiden flight in 2008.

Mitsubishi is promoting its jet as cleaner, quieter and more comfortable than existing regional jets, thanks in part to new engines from United Technologies Corp. ’s Pratt & Whitney, which Mitsubishi says will cut fuel consumption by 20% compared with similar airliners. Mitsubishi says its design, which places the baggage compartment at the rear of the fuselage rather than below the seats, will permit greater headroom than in other regional jets, which require tall passengers to duck.

Mr. Morris said the extra space and fuel efficiency, combined with the new design of the jet, could give Mitsubishi an edge. “There is a real market opportunity here,” he said.

Embraer and Bombardier are countering with upgrades of their existing regional jets, which they say will also cut fuel consumption and operating costs. Embraer plans to use the same Pratt & Whitney engines in new versions of its E-Jet series.

“In this segment, it’s all about the economics—along with, of course, reliability and service,” said Andy Solem, vice president for sales in China and the Asian-Pacific region in Bombardier’s commercial aircraft division. Embraer said in a statement that its long experience in serving regional airlines would give it an advantage over the Japanese newcomer, and it cited its “strength in customer support.”

The Mitsubishi planes are priced at between $40 million and $50 million, comparable to competing aircraft, analysts say. Customers who have made firm commitments include All Nippon Airways, Trans States Holdings and SkyWest Inc. of the U.S. as well as Air Mandalay Ltd. of Myanmar. The revived Eastern Air Lines Group Inc. of the U.S. has also placed orders. In August, Japan Airlines Co. signed a letter of intent to buy up to 32 of the jets.

“We hope to support the birth of a Japanese passenger jet which we can boast about to the world,” said Jian Yang, a JAL spokesman.

On the same day in August, however, JAL also said it would order more regional jets from Embraer. Embraer says it already has 590 orders for its next-generation regional jets, even though they aren’t expected to enter service until 2018.

The lag in orders is “a normal situation,” Mr. Kawai said, “because our airplane hasn’t even flown yet.”

The last Japanese commercial airliner was the propeller-driven YS-11, which had its first flight in 1962. Honda Motor Co. is developing a four- to six-passenger business jet for sale next year.

Mitsubishi Aircraft has invested about $1.8 billion in development of the jet. Shareholders include Toyota Motor Corp. and the Development Bank of Japan, while the government has provided research and testing support but no direct financial aid, Mr. Kawai said.

“We feel that success in the endeavor has significant meaning for Japanese industrialization,” Toyota said in a statement.

Mr. Kawai agreed. “For a long time, Japan has been successful in industries such as automobiles,” he said. “It should last, but we need to find new industries. Aircraft manufacturing can be one of them.”

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Agency: No utility drone use without permission

The federal government says a New York utility must seek permission before it implements plans to use drones to help inspect power lines and perform other tasks.

A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration tells the Poughkeepsie Journal that Central Hudson Gas & Electric's use of drones without permission would violate federal regulations.

The federal government says a New York utility must seek permission before it implements plans to use drones to help inspect power lines and perform other tasks.

A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration tells the Poughkeepsie Journal that Central Hudson Gas & Electric's use of drones without permission would violate federal regulations.

The Poughkeepsie-based utility had announced in the fall edition of its quarterly newsletter that it's considering using small, remote-controlled aircraft to help with power line inspections when poles or wires are damaged by storms.

The company said the drones have the potential to substantially reduce costs and delays.

But an FAA official says Central Hudson must apply for an exemption under current agency rules that prohibit commercial use of small, unmanned aircraft.

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Historic aircraft staying put due to permit confusion

Staff and volunteers with the Hixson Flight Museum plan to tow a three-ton T-28 Trojan aircraft from Hixson, Tennessee, to Richard B. Russell Regional Airport overnight tonight to have it on static display at the event.

A last-minute wrench was thrown into the plans to tow a historic warplane from Tennessee to Rome overnight Wednesday, meaning it won't be able to make it to this weekend's Wings Over North Georgia air show.

Mark McAllister with the Hixson Flight Museum said this afternoon that the Georgia Department of Transportation has informed them that they need a permit in order to pull the 3-ton, 28-foot-wide aircraft down U.S. 27.

"We had been in contact with all of the parties involved since day one to let them know what we were planning," McAllister said. "We were told we were within the limits of not having to get any permit."

McAllister said they need a police escort to tow the plane on public roads, and they can't get one without the permit.

He said they have been told it takes three to five days to get a permit, ending their hopes of bringing the plane in for the air show.

Previously posted:

Planes of all types will be taking to the sky and flying into Rome this weekend for the Wings Over North Georgia air show.

One, however, is hitting the road.

Staff and volunteers with the Hixson Flight Museum plan to tow a three-ton T-28 Trojan aircraft from Hixson, Tennessee, to Richard B. Russell Regional Airport overnight tonight to have it on static display at the event.

The approximately 80-mile trek is set to begin around 10 p.m., mostly on U.S. 27, according to Mark McAllister with the museum.

The plane will be towed on its own tires without the use of a trailer, leading to the possibility of having to stop and change the tires at certain points.

They expect the normally hour and a half-long trip to take between eight and nine hours, arriving early Thursday morning after traveling at an average of 10 mph.

“It will be a long, arduous process, but we’re looking forward to the challenge,” McAllister said.

The trip could also be a world record.

Hixson Flight Museum President Peter O’Hare said they have all of the documentation set up to submit the journey to Guinness World Records for towing an aircraft the furthest on public streets.

“We’ve done a number of these tows to local events, so now it’s time to do the big deal,” O’Hare said.

The plane is a 1950s-era warplane and aviation trainer used by the U.S. Armed Forces in campaigns in Southeast Asia.

McAllister said the plane is about 28 feet wide with its wings folded up and it is being towed because it’s unable to fly. It has been rebuilt from parts recovered from a collector in Illinois in 2010.

O’Hare said this would be the first time that the museum will have all three of its T-28s on display at remote events. The other two can fly and are already at Richard B. Russell Regional Airport.

“These are massive planes. They’re not small aircraft,” O’Hare said. “This is a Herculean event that these guys are attempting.”

McAllister said Chief Deputy Tom Caldwell of the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office has been instrumental in helping them get a deputy escort on their way. Volunteer drivers also will be in “chase cars” along the route.

The Wings Over North Georgia air show is Saturday and Sunday with gates opening at 10 a.m. each day.

Advance general admission is $15 for adults and $10 for children ages 6 to 17. Tickets at the gate are $5 more. Packages are also available.

Passes for the event can be purchased online at, by calling 888-695-0888 or at the gate.

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China plans to simplify private pilot's license process

Chinese aviation authority is planning to deepen reforms on low-altitude airspace management by simplifying approval procedures for general flights and loosening the private pilot's license assessment, said the Economic Information Daily on Wednesday.

Lv Junhua, financial director of National Air Traffic Committee, said at a forum that a series of policies will be introduced shortly to boost the industrial development in areas including the division of airspace and air service protection.

The recent reforms are also said to include reforming the standard for the private pilot license, reported the newspaper.

A private-licensed candidate in China needs to have at least 40 flying hours and pass the physical and theory exam, with a minimum training cost of 150,000 yuan, said a training provider.

"General aviation industry in China is now in a golden age with unlimited potentials. It is likely to become the third leading industries along with automobile and high-speed trains," said Wang Jian, deputy director of southwest management bureau at Civil Aviation Administration of China to the Daily.

According to industry professionals, general flight companies totaled 226 in China by the end of September, with 201 more at the initial founding stage. The total number of registered general aircraft in China has reached 1,786.

Domestic demand for flights is expected to amount to $15.5 billion in value term in 10 years, said the newspaper, quoting Liu Daxiang, member of Chinese Academy of Engineering.

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Centers for Disease Control: Nurse Exposed to Ebola Should Not Have Flown

A top federal health official said Wednesday that a Texas nurse exposed to the Ebola virus never should have taken a flight from Cleveland to the Dallas area. She has now been diagnosed with Ebola and officials are now contacting other passengers on the plane.

"The level of risk to people around her would be extremely low," said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The worker is the second to be infected after treating a Liberian man who died of Ebola last week.

Frieden says the health care worker traveled to Ohio before she knew that the first nurse had been diagnosed. She was undergoing self-monitoring at the time.

The unidentified nurse flew to Cleveland on Friday, the same day a colleague, nurse Nina Pham, was hospitalized. Pham's diagnosis with Ebola was disclosed on Sunday.

The second nurse returned to Texas on Monday on Frontier Airlines Flight 1143 from Cleveland to Dallas-Fort Worth with 132 other passengers, according to the CDC.

The airplane's crew said she had no symptoms of Ebola during her return flight on Monday. But Tuesday morning she developed a fever and on Tuesday night tested positive for Ebola.

Infected Ebola patients are not considered contagious until they have symptoms. But the CDC is asking passengers on Monday's flight to call the health agency so they can be monitored.

The flight landed in Dallas at 8:16 p.m. Monday, stayed there overnight, and underwent a thorough cleaning before returning to service the next day. The cleaning was consistent with CDC guidelines, according to a Frontier Airlines statement released by CDC officials.

The health worker's flight to Cleveland last week happened far enough in advance of her symptoms that the CDC sees no need to contact passengers on that earlier flight, said Barbara Reynolds, a CDC spokeswoman.

Health officials did not immediately release the reason for her trip or where she visited in the Cleveland area. The CDC notified the airline Wednesday morning.

The CDC is asking passengers on the Monday flight to call 1-800-CDC INFO (1-800-232-4636).

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European Regulator Clears Airbus A350 For Extended Single-Engine Flights: Decision Opens The Door For Airline Operators to Explore New Ultralong Routes

The Wall Street Journal
By Robert Wall
Oct. 15, 2014 10:28 a.m. ET

Airbus Group NV has received approval from European regulators to fly the A350, its newest long-range jet, on a single-engine for up to 370 minutes from the nearest airfield, in a decision that opens up new long distance routes for airlines.

The European Aviation Safety Agency cleared the A350 for commercial service in late September, but held off on setting the single-engine operations limit as it continued analyzing flight test data provided by the Toulouse-based plane maker. Airbus conducted tests over the summer to demonstrate that the A350 could contain fire in the cargo hold over the period and demonstrate the reliability of a range of onboard systems.

The A350’s ability to fly for 6 hours and 10 minutes means that it easily beats Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner, which can fly for 5/12 hours on one engine.

However, the performance of both aircraft means that ultralong polar and overseas routes are now open for airline operators. Some of the new, nonstop routes that would be open to twin-engine jets include trips from Australia to Brazil, or New Zealand to South Africa.

Airbus said it expects the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to follow with its own approval “soon.” Lead customer Qatar Airways is poised to receive its first A350 next month.

Airbus’ A330-300 widebody already has approval from regulators to fly as far as four hours from the nearest airport under so called Extended-range Twin Operations, or ETOPS, rules.

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Man Arrested in Hawaii-Japan Flight Assault • Michael Tanouye Charged with Aggravated Sexual Assault Aboard an Aircraft

The Wall Street Journal

Associated Press
Oct. 15, 2014 2:11 a.m. ET

HONOLULU—A Japan Airlines flight had to return to Honolulu after a male passenger sexually assaulted a female passenger in the airplane’s bathroom, the FBI said.

FBI agents arrested Michael Tanouye, 29, of Hilo, Hawaii, Saturday night at Honolulu International Airport for interfering with a flight crew and aggravated sexual assault aboard an aircraft. The sexual assault charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The flight was en route to Kansai International Airport when Mr. Tanouye forced his way into a bathroom and sexually assaulted a woman, according to an FBI affidavit. The woman, who was returning home to Japan with her mother after a four-day vacation in Hawaii, went to use the restroom about an hour and 45 minutes after takeoff.

While struggling with Mr. Tanouye the woman was able to push the bathroom’s emergency button. The woman’s mother, the flight attendants and other passengers tried to open the lavatory door but were unable because Mr. Tanouye was blocking the door, FBI Special Agent Necosie Wilson wrote in the affidavit. They had to open the door by removing screws from its hinges.

Flight attendants and passengers told the FBI that a male passenger was injured while struggling to subdue Mr. Tanouye.

Before the incident, Mr. Tanouye was heard shouting something incomprehensible and his mother told a flight attendant he suffers from depression and is on medication. He stood up to walk around and appeared calm, telling flight attendants he was going to visit his grandmother. Flight attendants agreed not to serve him alcohol because he was on medication.

After the incident, Mr. Tanouye’s mother gave him a dose of his medicine and he fell asleep, the affidavit said.

The captain of the plane decided to turn around two hours after takeoff after hearing it took three passengers to keep Mr. Tanouye calm.

Hawaii sheriff deputies took Mr. Tanouye off the plane when it landed in Honolulu and FBI agents arrested him, said Special Agent Tom Simon, spokesman for the FBI in Honolulu. He’s being held without bail at the Honolulu Federal Detention Center.

He appeared in federal court for a brief hearing Tuesday, with what appeared to be an injury on the left side of his face. He replied “yes” when the judge asked if he understood the charges. He wasn’t required to enter a plea.

Defense attorney Richard Sing declined to comment after the hearing. Mr. Tanouye’s parents and sister attended the hearing and left the courthouse without commenting.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Butrick told U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang there are additional charges and “mental health issues at play.” Outside the courtroom, Mr. Butrick declined to elaborate on the pending charges, mental health issues or the facial injury.

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