Saturday, March 18, 2017

Phoenix flight paths fight goes to court

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Ever since September of 2014, flights at Sky Harbor International Airport have been taking off with a different path from the past, directly over historic and other neighborhoods. 

The Federal Aviation Administration has maintained it's about safety and saving fuel.  But the City of Phoenix and people putting up with the noise want the planes flying the old flight paths.

On Friday, the case was finally heard by the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

The big issue -- not just the noise -- but the time it took the City of Phoenix to fight the flight plans and the way the FAA notified the city about them.

The city and its attorney, John Putnam, began the oral arguments.  Justice Judith Rogers consistently asked Putnam why the city didn't file a formal complaint about the flight paths sooner. 

"Wasn't the city obligated to file a petition in 60 days if it wanted to challenge the new routes?" Justice Rogers asked.

"I don't believe it was your honor," Putnam responded.  "In this circumstance within 60 days -- within 30 days -- the FAA told the city the noise impacts were greater than expected and that it intended to listen to community and city and go about the process and make changes.

Mr. Putnam told the court the city believed the FAA would listen to the complaints and make changes.  So it didn't file a formal complaint in 60 days -- as the law says it was supposed to.  Instead, the city waited 10 months to file a lawsuit.

The law also said the FAA had to notify the city in advance of the new flight paths.  It did that through a low level employee, a noise abatement specialist, who apparently didn't tell superiors.  That was the issue Justice Rogers took up with the Department of Justice attorney, Lane McFadden.

"Why wouldn't the statues and own procedures, contemplate notifying policy making officials?... Otherwise, it's a stealth operation.  All of sudden, you wake up, the plane's flying over your house and you don't know about it," Justice Rogers said. 

"The specific regulatory obligation is to consult with quote a representative of local government with jurisdiction over the area," McFadden responded. 

That's what the FAA said it did. 

Now the justices will decide what happens next.  They've not said when they could issue a decision in the case. 


Yeager Airport (KCRW) confiscates second gun in one week

CHARLESTON - A Huntington man was cited by police at Yeager Airport on Thursday after a Transportation Security Administration officer found him in possession of a loaded firearm.

The TSA officer found the man with a 9mm semi-automatic handgun loaded with eight bullets, including one in the chamber. The citation was the second in two days.

On Wednesday, a Dunbar, West Virginia, man was found with a loaded .380 caliber semi-automatic handgun loaded with six bullets, including one in the firing chamber. An additional 14 bullets were found in a box next to the gun.

Both guns were confiscated by Yeager Airport police; the incidents are believed to be unrelated.

Weapons, including firearm parts and ammunition, are not permitted in carry-on bags, but can be transported in checked bags if unloaded and properly packed. Passengers who bring firearms to the checkpoint are subject to possible criminal charges from law enforcement and civil penalties from TSA up to $12,000, according to the TSA.


Volunteers help clean runways at Greenville Downtown Airport (KGMU)

Bennett Coetsee, 6, and seven-year-old Beau Shankle show off debris they found on the runway.

Air traffic was shut down temporarily at the Greenville Downtown Airport on Saturday morning as volunteers collected debris on airport surfaces.

About 40 to 50 people assembled into four teams, scanning the airport's ramps, taxiways and runways in-search of foreign object debris.

Foreign object debris is anything that should not be on airport surfaces. These include items like pens or sunglasses that fall from people's possession, to items from planes including nuts, bolts and tire caps. Foreign object debris also includes natural items like sticks, rocks and loose pavement.

"It's very dangerous on airports when any loose impediments like rocks or screws fall off and gets sucked up into an engine or blown into another aircraft. They spend a fortune on aircraft windscreen because of foreign object debris," said Joe Frasher, director of the Greenville Downtown Airport.

Walking shoulder to shoulder, volunteers kept their vision to the tarmac, searching for foreign objects and placing them into yellow bags. Julie Shankle, 35, brought her son Beau Shankle, 6, and nephew Bennett Coetsee, 7, to the event. Minus a dead bird, found by her son and nephew, Shankle said she hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary. "(We've) been picking up nuts and bolts and pieces of planes. Just things that could be a danger to flyers," she said.

Allan Austin, 62, a private pilot, said he just wanted to do his part. Austin said he's been flying for 10 years.

"This is preventive approach to keeping our airport in good shape. We wanted to come out and give back and help keep the airport clean," Austin said.

Opened in 1928, the airport employs about 200 and services close to 65,000 operations, Frasher said.

"This is the community's airport and we want to bring people out here as much as we can and make it something they can appreciate and enjoy." Frasher said.


Southwest Airlines, Boeing 737-700: Incident occurred March 18, 2017 at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport (KAMA), Amarillo, Texas

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -   A Southwest flight departing from Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix and headed to Atlanta had to make an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas Saturday morning after a pressurization failure.

According to one valley resident, oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling above the passengers while the pilot came over the PA system to announce that Southwest flight 118 had a cabin pressure failure and would need to make an emergency landing.

The plane landed safely. According to the passenger, one person was transported with unknown medical issues while others needed medical attention due to nosebleeds and hurt eardrums.

Southwest Airlines is re-booking passengers so they can still make it to their final destination in Atlanta and issued the below statement to its customers:

"The Pilots in command of Southwest flight #118 scheduled Phoenix to Atlanta initiated a controlled descent and safely diverted the aircraft to Amarillo to address a pressurization issue that developed in flight.  The Pilots and Crew followed emergency procedures to reach a safe altitude, take care of the Customers onboard and land at the nearest airport in accordance with trained procedures. The flight was met by Emergency personnel, and initial reports do not indicate any injuries to Customers or Crew. The aircraft was taken out of service so mechanics on the ground could inspect it and make any necessary repairs. The Customers will be accommodated on a different aircraft and will arrive Atlanta approximately 7 hrs. late. Our number one priority at Southwest Airlines is the Safety of our Customers and Employees. We apologize for the inconvenience this event created for our Customers."

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Incident occurred March 18, 2017 at LaGuardia Airport (KLGA), New York

A jet plane carrying 73 people got stuck in a snowdrift at LaGuardia Airport, officials said.

Republic Airline flight number 5964, operating under Delta, arrived Saturday from Chicago.

The pilot went to turn off the runway to taxi to the gate, and the plane got stuck, said Steve Coleman, spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The ground crew helped to clear the snow and the plane taxied to the gate without assistance, said Elizabeth Wolf, Delta spokeswoman. 

None of the 73 passengers on board were injured. There was no damage to the Embraer 175 regional jet.

Coleman says airport operations weren't affected. The delay took about an hour. He says the plane did not skid off the runway.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.


Cessna 172M Skyhawk, N12213: Incident occurred March 17, 2017 at Spanish Fork-Springville Airport (U77), Spanish Fork, Utah County, Utah

SPANISH FORK – A car involved in a race crashed into a parked plane with a pilot inside at Spanish Fork-Springville Airport Friday night.

“All of a sudden there was a crash, and after a few seconds of being stunned I knew immediately what had happened,” said Preston Johnson, a 17-year-old pilot in training.

Johnson was getting in some night hours with his instructor on Friday in Spanish Fork. His plane was parked, and his instructor was out checking the plane's lights when the crash occurred.

“A Corvette hit me at pretty decent speeds, I hear," Johnson said. "I don't know cause I didn't see it."

Police say two middle-aged men attending a party at a nearby hangar took their sports cars out for a drag race on the taxiway.

“Mostly the sound is what caught me off guard," Johnson recalls. "Gear got taken out, the slant of it, and then [I] was completely surprised that just happened."

The Corvette came just close enough to the plane to clip the wheel. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

“If he had hit me straight on and hit my engine on it would have been a different story,” Johnson said.

The two drivers, one in a Corvette and the other in a Porsche, were cited for reckless driving.

“They were not kids, they were old enough that they really know better, and they exhibited very poor judgment and they are very remorseful today and there's going to be significant consequences,” said Cris Child, Spanish Fork Springville Airport Manager.

“A citation, [and] a mandatory court date usually with that, where they need to appear to court to explain what they were doing, essentially, to a judge,” said Sgt. Courtney Jones with Spanish Fork PD.

Cris Child says the party host who let them through the gate is not off the hook either. Police say he was talking with the drivers via a radio, telling them the taxiway was all clear.

“He'll probably be facing pretty considerable penalties up to and including losing his lease on the hangar,” Child said.

The airport says they will be implementing more security and will do everything in their power to make sure nothing even close to this happens ever again.

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A Corvette driver participating in a drag race with another car crashed into a small airplane stopped on the taxiway at Spanish Fork-Springville Airport on Friday evening.

Sgt. Cade Harding with Spanish Fork Public Safety said the drivers were invited into the security area of the airport by an individual with a hangar at the facility. He said those additional individuals didn’t have authorization to be at the airport.

The Corvette and a Porsche were reportedly drag racing on the taxiway. During one of the races at about 8:30 p.m., a single-engine plane preparing to depart stopped on the taxiway and stopped its engine to investigate a mechanical issue.

While the plane was stopped, the Corvette struck the plane causing damage to the plane’s wheel and possibly part of its tail, Harding said.

There was also damage to the passenger side of the Corvette.

No one was injured in the incident, including the plane’s flight instructor and student pilot.

Harding said the two car drivers would likely be charged with reckless driving. He indicated that drag racing isn’t necessarily a sanctioned activity at the airport, particularly when there were flight operations. The airport does accommodate flights after sunset.

The National Transportation Safety Board was contacted about the incident and Harding said airport personnel were going to address matters on their end.


SPANISH FORK, Utah, March 18, 2017 (Gephardt Daily) — Police responded to the Spanish Fork-Springville Airport on Friday night, after a car that was drag racing hit a small plane.

Spanish Fork Police Sgt. Cade Harding said the incident happened at 8:30 p.m., when a Corvette drove into a small plane that had stopped to check on a mechanical issue. It was dark, and visibility was limited.

A student and an instructor were in the plane, preparing for a flight, Harding said, when they realized they had a problem with a landing light. They had taxied out and then shut down to check on the light.

“A couple of vehicles were drag racing, and one vehicle hit the plane,” Harding told Gephardt Daily. “Fortunately, no one was injured. We got lucky on this one.”

Harding didn’t know who owns the plane, but he said both the Corvette and the plane had some damage.

The driver of the Corvette and the driver of the other car, a Porsche, were both cited for reckless driving.


SPANISH FORK, Utah -- Police responded to the Spanish Fork-Springville Airport Friday night after a car involved in a drag race crashed into an airplane stopped on the taxiway.

There were no injuries reported in connection with the crash, and Fox 13 News first heard report of the incident around 9 p.m.

Spanish Fork Police say a man who has access to a hangar at the airport invited several friends into a restricted area, and some of those individuals began drag racing on the taxiway.

A 17-year-old boy and a flight instructor were in a small aircraft working on the teen's nighttime certification. As the plane moved down the taxiway, the pair noticed an issue with a light and shut the aircraft down to check out the problem.

A Corvette and Porsche were racing down the taxiway, and the Corvette struck the stopped airplane, which sustained damage to its landing gear.

There were no injuries reported. Police say the drivers of the cars were issued citations for reckless driving.

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Basler BT-67 Turbo 67 (DC-3T), Private Air on behalf of Cargo North, C-FKGL: Incident occurred March 17, 2017 at Pickle Lake Airport, Ontario, Canada

PICKLE LAKE -- A North Star Air BT-67 cargo aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing at the Pickle Lake airport on Friday.

Ontario Provincial Police officers were called to the airport at 12:20 p.m. 

The two pilots and single crew member were uninjured in the incident. 

"North Star Air is fully co-operating with the investigation and will release further information as it becomes available," a company spokeswoman said in a release issued by the airline.

Transportation Safety Board of Canada officials will arrive in Pickle Lake on March 18 to investigate the incident. 


Provincial police officers responded about 12:20 p.m. to the Pickle Lake airport to investigate an emergency landing by a North Star Air cargo plane.

The airplane’s two pilots and a crew member were not injured, police said. There were no passengers onboard the plane, which the airline referred to as a Basler BT-67.

Transportation Safety Board investigators will be on site today to investigate this incident. North Star Air activated their emergency response plan and are working with the Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada to determine the cause.

Cessna 172P Skyhawk, N230TX: Fatal accident occurred March 15, 2017

SAGINAW COUNTY, Michigan (WJRT) - Two Michigan mysteries have been solved, a mysterious plane crash in 2017, and the discovery of human remains found in Saginaw County more than a year later.

It was Tuesday when we told you Saginaw County investigators were zeroing in on the identity of human remains found in Chapin Township in 2018.

An MSU anthropologist confirmed today the remains are those of a man who police believe jumped from an airplane.

The confirmation was made through dental records. You might remember, teeth were found in those Saginaw County woods in 2018 and the University of Michigan police had Xin Rong's dental records, and it was a match.

"There all kinds of theories going around at first," says Saginaw County Undersheriff Mike Gomez.

But finally, after more than three years of investigation, the Saginaw County Sheriff's Department confirms the almost intact human skeletal remains found in woods in southwest Saginaw County are that of Xin Rong.

He was a 27-year-old University of Michigan doctoral student who rented a Cessna from an Ann Arbor airport in March of 2015.

He filed a flight plane to Harbor Springs, but when that plane crashed in Mantiouwadge, Canada, north of Lake Superior, with no fuel, and no one on board, it had investigators stumped.

Police and family believed Rong had jumped from the plane to his death.

"He had made comments to other people, he had made comments to his wife that was his intent," says Gomez.

Investigators believed the auto-pilot settings had the plane had about nine thousand feet in the air, but where did Rong end up?

When human bones were found about a year and a half after the crash, MSU anthropologist Joe Hefner determined the bones were so badly broken, it was possible the person had fallen from airplane.

Last month, a private company, Othram performed a DNA test which indicated the remains were that of a person most likely from eastern Asia.

Detectives began looking through Michigan missing persons cases for people of that ethnicity, which lead them to Rong.

His family was notified this morning.

"Whether it is a year, whether its a day, whether its five years, its still an emotional experience," says Gomez.

Rong's widow lives in California and now the process will begin of reuniting his remains with his family.

University of Michigan Flyers Inc

NTSB Identification: CEN17WA133 
Accident occurred Wednesday, March 15, 2017 in Manitouwadge, Canada
Aircraft: CESSNA 172P, registration: N230TX
Injuries: Unavailable

The foreign authority was the source of this information.

On March 15, 2017, at an unknown time, a Cessna 172P airplane, N230TX, owned and operated by the University of Michigan Flyers Inc. was substantially damaged when it collided with wooded terrain near Manitouwadge, Ontario, Canada. No pilot or occupant was found in the wreckage. The flight originated from the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport, near Ann Arbor, Michigan, about 1912 eastern daylight time and was destined for the Harbor Springs Airport, near Harbor Springs, Michigan.

The accident investigation is under the jurisdiction and control of the Canadian Transportation Safety Board. This report is for informational purposes only and contains only information released by or obtained from the Canadian government. Further information pertaining to this accident may be obtained from:

Transportation Safety Board of Canada
200 Promenade du Portage,
Place du Centre, 4th Floor
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 1K8 
Occurrence Number: A17O0045

SAGINAW, Michigan – Human bones found in central Michigan are those of a pilot who apparently leapt from his plane in mid-flight, authorities said Thursday.

The bones discovered September 9, 2018, in Chapin Township have been positively identified as those of 27-year-old Xin Rong, a University of Michigan doctoral student who disappeared while flying a rented Cessna on March 15, 2017, the Saginaw County Sheriff’s Office confirmed.

The plane had left Ann Arbor and was bound for Harbor Springs in northern Michigan. The plane apparently ran out of fuel and crashed in a wooded area near Marathon, Ontario, north of the Upper Peninsula.

The partially clothed bones were found by a man on his property. After a check of missing person cases turned up Rong, his dental records were sent to a forensic anthropologist who positively identified the bones as his, authorities said. 

The pilot, Xin Rong, of a Cessna Skyhawk (N230TX) that crashed 60km east of Marathon has been declared dead by Washtenaw County probate judge Julia Owdziej, in an October 5th hearing. Rong, member of Michigan Flyers, based at the Ann Arbor airport rented the plane, with a flight plan for Harbour Springs, Michigan. The aircraft was reported overdue the same day, March 15th, 2017. 

A search was conducted in the Harbour Springs/Petoskey area without success, and the search radius was expanded into Northern Ontario. 

Superior East Ontario Provincial Police – Wawa assisted JRCC Trenton in searching for a missing small aircraft on March 16th.  The Hercules was observed searching in Michipicoten Bay for about 25 minutes before heading to Marathon to continue searching there. The Skyhawk was found crashed, out of fuel, 60km east of Marathon with no signs of the pilot Xin Rong at the crash site and no footprints in the snow. There were a number of Rong’s personal items found in the aircraft.

Xin Rong was pursuing a doctorate at University of Michigan and was a certified private pilot.

The University of Michigan doctoral student, who was from China, disappeared last March while flying a rented Cessna from the Ann Arbor, Michigan airport.

The plane's wreckage was found in a forested area about 60 kilometres from Marathon but there was no trace of the pilot.

Two rescue technicians airlifted to the site found no human remains and no footprints in the snow around the wreckage.

It appeared the plane had been on autopilot, and hit the ground after exhausting its fuel supply.

Authorities have speculated that Rong exited the plane at some point prior to the crash.

A probate judge has signed an order declaring that he died on March 15, the day of the crash.

Xin Rong

OTTAWA—The military search-and-rescue technicians dropped in on a mystery.

A light plane had crashed in the woods in northern Ontario and an air force Hercules transport and Griffon helicopter were dispatched from Trenton to search for survivors.

They located the crash site and two rescuers dropped by parachute to the scene. It’s what they didn’t find that has left authorities on both sides of the border scratching their heads.

There was no pilot in the wreckage, nor any indication that anyone had walked away.

“Aircraft was devoid of any occupant or any trace of an occupant prior to impact; no footprints in snow,” read a preliminary report by Transport Canada.

The plane, a Cessna 172, had departed Ann Arbor, Mich., bound for Harbor Springs, about 370 kilometres north, just after 7 p.m. on March 15.

But the plane overflew its destination and continued north, flying another 380 kilometres over the eastern end of Lake Superior before crashing east of Marathon, Ont., just before midnight.

That’s where military rescuers found it the following day. “They conducted a search of the immediate area and there was nothing to suggest that anybody walked away from the wreckage,” said Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Peter Leon.

The next day, the OPP flew in its own team to search the crash site and they too came up empty, Leon told the Star.

“It is rather unique,” Leon said. “We’ve had a number of tragedies involving aircraft. Usually when they find the aircraft, they find the pilot or the occupants.”

Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada also went to the scene to survey the wreckage.

The plane crash has now become a missing persons case, although authorities aren’t holding out much hope they will find the pilot alive.

Police believe that at some point during the flight, the pilot, a 27-year-old PhD student at the University of Michigan, jumped from the plane, leaving it to fly unattended until it crashed.

“The feeling right now is at some point during the flight, the pilot more than likely left the confines of that aircraft. Whereabouts? We have no idea,” Leon said.

“It is entirely possible that the pilot could have exited the plane at any point,” he said.

The Transport Canada report pointedly noted that, “the pilot was not a parachutist or does not own a parachute.”

The pilot was seen on the morning of March 15. Later that day, he rented the Cessna at Ann Arbor Airport, according to Diane Brown, a spokeswoman for the University of Michigan police department.

“University police have reasons to believe his actions likely were an act of self-harm,” Brown said in a statement.

“Out of respect for his family, classmates and colleagues, we won’t have additional information to release on the investigation,” she said.

The search has been put on hold but Leon said that police are hoping someone may find something. “We’ll obviously do whatever we can to try to locate the whereabouts of that pilot and follow up on any information that is received,” Leon said.


The 27-year-old Michigan pilot and academic believed to have rented the small plane that crashed without any occupants last week near Manitouwadge was likely intending to his end his life when he took off, University of Michigan police confirmed Wednesday.

“Police have reasons to believe his actions likely were an act of self-harm,” a University of Michigan news release said.

Police said the pilot was Ann Arbor, Mich. resident Xin Rong, 27, a Ph.D. candidate in the university’s school of information.

Rong, who was last seen on the morning of March 15, is believed to have rented a Cessna 172 aircraft later that day from the University of Michigan Flyers club.
Police have suspended an air and ground search for Rong, the release said. His body has not been found.

Rong described himself on his website as an award-winning researcher in the field of “human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence (and) natural language processing.”

University police did not elaborate on why it believes Rong was feeling suicidal.

“Out of respect for his family, classmates and colleagues, we won't have additional information to release,” said the news release.

According to a Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigation, the Cessna 172 Rong rented crashed on the night of March 15 about 25 kilometres southeast of Manitouwadge.

No traces of a pilot or passengers were found at the remote scene. Investigators said the plane didn’t land anywhere before it crashed, and had travelled 770 kilometres by the time it descended unoccupied into the woods.

“When (Rong) exited, and how (Rong) exited, is still a mystery,” said one board investigator who inspected the crash site.

Investigators believe the plane was flying on auto-pilot and ran out of fuel just prior to crashing.

It departed Ann Arbor airport, near Detroit, about 7 p.m. on March 15 and was bound for Harbour Springs in the northern part of Michigan.

ANN ARBOR, MI - Police have identified a missing University of Michigan student who rented a small plane that crashed in Canada last week.

School of Information doctoral candidate Xin Rong, 27, was last seen on the morning of March 15, said Diane Brown, spokeswoman for the University of Michigan Division of Public Safety and Security.

He rented a plane from the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport the same day, and it's believed to have crashed late that night, about 11:38 p.m. in Ontario, Canada, about 37.3 miles east of the town of Marathon. Marathon appears to be about 463 miles northwest of Ann Arbor by air.

A wrecked plane in Ontario, Canada, is connected to a missing University of Michigan student, police say.

Officials do not believe Rong was aboard the plane at the time of the crash and university police believe his actions were likely an act of self-harm. Air and ground searches for him have since been suspended, Brown said.

Sgt. Peter Leon, media coordinator for Ontario Provincial Police, has said there's nothing to indicate that the plane's pilot is alive.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is investigating the crash and a liaison from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is working with Canadian authorities, said Chris Krepski, a spokesman for the Canadian board.

The university division declined to release further information.


Six months after a University of Michigan doctoral student mysteriously vanished while piloting a plane — which eventually crash-landed in Canada — a woman who says she is his wife is asking a judge to declare him dead.

Xin Rong, who was 27 at the time of his disappearance, has been missing March 15. 

The downed Cessna he had been flying was found in a densely wooded area in Ontario the same day he rented the aircraft from a flying group at the Ann Arbor Airport. But Rong was not there, there were no footprints in the snow and the plane was out of fuel, authorities have said. 

A spokesman with the Ontario Provincial Police previously said authorities believe Rong jumped from the plane at some point during the flight. At the time, police said suicide was suspected.

In a petition to have Rong's death established by a Washtenaw County probate judge, Surong Ruan, who says in court filings that she is his wife, wrote: "All the evidence indicates the aircraft was operating normally and crashed because it ran out of fuel, and at some point prior to the crash, the pilot exited the aircraft. As ground searches were negative, no parachute or life vests on the plane and the aircraft was cruising at around 9000 ft altitude, I believe Xin Rong exited the aircraft and didn't have a chance of being alive."

A hearing on the petition is scheduled for next month.

An official with the court said such petitions ask for the court to establish the cause, date and location of death.

His wife sought an earlier hearing in the case — rather than waiting months to publish notices of the hearing in a newspaper — but online court records indicate her request was denied. 

In a letter to Judge Julia Owdziej dated May 31, she wrote that she lives in San Francisco and Rong's parents live in China and said she is trying to take care of his property and address questions from insurance companies and the club that owned the plane Rong had been flying.

"I cannot address some of these matters until there is a declaration that he is deceased," she wrote.

Reached by phone on Friday, she said she was not available to talk and hung up.

Last week, Diane Brown, a spokeswoman for the U-M Division of Public Safety and Security, said the investigation remains open and wrote in an e-mail that police "don't have any new information to release."

Rong was pursuing a PhD in the university's School of Information and had an interest in aviation. A member of the flying club, who could not be reached last week, previously told the Free Press that Rong was a certified pilot.

On March 15, he flew out of Ann Arbor in a 1984 Cessna 172P owned by the Michigan Flyers. When it was overdue to return, authorities were notified and the wreckage was found in a forested area near Manitouwadge, Ontario, northeast of Munising over Lake Superior.

Documents filed in the probate case offer more details about his disappearance. In her letter to the judge, his wife wrote that Rong's wallet, iPad and other personal items were found in the plane.

Also included in the court file is a letter from a university police sergeant dated March 24 that says, in addition to searches around the plane crash site, a search was conducted in the Petoskey area, "where Mr. Rong's cellphone last pinged. Results were negative."

A spokesman with the Ontario Provincial Police last week would not confirm whether the cell phone pinged to any towers in Canada and said their investigation would remain open until Rong's whereabouts are known.

Science flights give center director new perspective

NORMAL — Stacey Shrewsbury recently took her love of flight and exploration to new heights — 43,000 feet, to be exact.

Shrewsbury, lead flight director at the Challenger Learning Center at Heartland Community College, flew aboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy last week as part of a program to give educators a first-hand opportunity to see scientific researchers at work.

During the two flights she made while in California, in discussions on the ground and a course she took as part of the project, Shrewsbury learned a lot about infrared astronomy and the electromagnetic spectrum.

She also learned about teamwork.

“Individual teams need to come together for the mission to be a success. That's what we do here,” said Shrewsbury, with her feet back on the ground on the Heartland campus.

The flying observatory — called SOFIA — carried a Field Imaging Far-Infrared Line Spectrometer on Shrewsbury's two flights. The equipment included a telescope with a 100-inch-diameter mirror pointed out the open door of the modified 747SP aircraft. The plane is based at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, Calif.

During “missions” at the Challenger Learning Center, participants are assigned to teams and told each team is important and if one team fails, the mission fails, explained Shrewsbury.

“I saw that with SOFIA time and time again,” she said.

The flight crew, telescope operators, scientists, technicians, mechanics and others on the ground and in the air all worked together, engaging in “problem-solving and team building on the fly,” said Shrewsbury.

“What I really appreciated and took away from this is the passion that each individual carried with him or her through the mission and the SOFIA program,” she said.

The project is a partnership between NASA and the German Aerospace Center. The primary focus of the scientists on Shrewsbury's flights was mapping the M51 galaxy, also known as the Whirlpool Galaxy that is about 30 million light-years away.

Adjusting to the time change and different sleeping schedules was a challenge. The flights took place at night. The second one lasted from 8:30 p.m. until 6:30 a.m.

A pilot herself — although of much smaller planes — Shrewsbury followed their flights on her own tablet and was on the flight deck for the takeoff of the first flight and landings of both flights.

A typical 747SP can seat about 230 passengers. But Shrewsbury said their SOFIA flights, equipped with various science stations and equipment, had 23 people on board.

Shrewsbury was partnered with Jennifer Hubbell-Thomas, a science teacher at Williamsville (Ill.) Junior High School. They worked together as “earth ambassadors,” providing educational programs, before being selected to fly aboard SOFIA as “airborne astronomy ambassadors.”

The purpose of the program is “to more effectively engage learners of all ages on NASA science education programs and activities,” according to the SETI Institute, which manages the ambassador program.

Shrewsbury will talk about her experiences at various events, including the Parent-Child Astronomy Exploration program April 1 at the Challenger center.

One of the mission directors told Shrewsbury that his interest in astronomy was triggered by a junior high school teacher who brought an inflatable planetarium to the classroom. 

Her hope is that students participating in missions at the Challenger center will find a similar spark that inspires them.

“What I want people to walk away with is to find that interest, find that passion and ride that passion,” she said. “Use it to push you forward and propel you to the next thing.”

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