Friday, April 23, 2010

After Ash Cloud, Uncertainty For Air Travel

Thousands of flights are crisscrossing Europe, but things are far from normal: The cloud of volcanic ash and the nearly weeklong shutdown of air traffic have added another element of uncertainty to the hassles of flying.

There has been debate over the correct response by airlines and governments to the ash even as the world watches Iceland for any signs of another big eruption.

Just as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and other attempts to blow up planes heralded a new era of ultra-tight security at airports, the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano that grounded much of Europe could prove to be a game-changer in the history of aviation -- or at least keep things extremely unsettled for a long time.

Some people are saying they'll think twice about taking a plane if trains - slower but more reliable - are available instead.

NYC Terror Suspect Pleads Guilty

A New York man who authorities say plotted with an admitted al-Qaida associate to set off homemade bombs in the city's subway system pleaded guilty Friday to charges including conspiracy to use weapons of destruction.

Zarein Ahmedzay said in court in Brooklyn that he had received orders from leaders of the al-Qaida terrorist network to carry out the foiled plot in September 2009 to bomb Manhattan subway lines. He also pleaded guilty to providing material support to al-Qaida.

Authorities say he joined admitted al-Qaida associate Najibullah Zazi and another friend from their Queens high school on a trip to Pakistan in 2008 to seek terrorism training.

Zazi, a Colorado airport van driver, admitted earlier this year that he tested bomb-making materials in a Denver suburb before traveling by car to New York with the intent of attacking the subway system to avenge U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan.

Ahmedzay and the third suspect, Adis Medunjanin, had previously pleaded not guilty to charges they sought to join Zazi in what prosecutors described as three "coordinated suicide bombing attacks" on Manhattan subway lines. The bombings were planned for the days after the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, authorities said.

Prosecutors say the attacks were modeled after the London transit system bombings in July 2005, when four suicide bombers killed 52 people and themselves in an attack on three subway trains and a bus.

The alleged New York plot was disrupted in early September when police officials stopped Zazi's car as it entered New York. Last month, an Afghanistan-born imam linked to the suspects pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI when asked about the men. He was sentenced to time served and ordered to leave the United States.

Officials have said a fourth suspect is in custody in Pakistan, but have given no other details about him.

Gymnastics Champ Dies In Car Accident

Police said two-time Olympic rhythmic gymnastics champion Natalia Lavrova of Russia has been killed in a car accident.

Traffic police spokesman Vitaly Ivanov said in a televised statement that a car driven by Lavrova's sister collided Friday with another vehicle near Penza, about 330 miles southeast of Moscow. He said Lavrova and her sister died instantly.

The 25-year-old Lavrova is Russia's only rhythmic gymnast to win two Olympic gold medals -- in team competitions at the Sydney and Athens Olympics in 2000 and 2004.

Lavrova came into the sport when she was 5. She joined the Russian team in 1998 and won her first major world title in 1999. She later coached Dynamo club and helped train Russia's national team.

New Home Sales Jump From Record Low

Sales of new homes surged 27 percent last month, bouncing off the previous month's record low and blowing past expectations as better weather and government incentives boosted sales.

The Commerce Department says new home sales rose in March to a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 411,000. It was the strongest month since last July and the biggest monthly increase in 47 years.

Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected a sales pace of 330,000. February's results were revised upward to 324,000, but remained an all-time low. Sales had been especially weak over the winter, partly due to bad weather in much of the country.

The median sales price was $214,000, up more than 4 percent from a year earlier but down more than 3 percent from February.

Spanish Hospital Claims 1st Full-Face Transplant

A hospital in Spain says it has carried out the world's first full-face transplant, giving a man a new nose, skin, jaws, cheekbones, teeth and other features after he lost his face in an accident.

Other transplant experts lauded the surgery but were not sure it could technically be called 'full-face.'

The operation was carried out by a 30-member medical team in late March and took 24 hours to perform, according to the Vall d'Hebron Hospital in Barcelona.

The patient now has a completely new face from his hairline down and only one visible scar, which looks like a wrinkle running across his neck, said Dr. Joan Pere Barret, the surgeon who led the team.

"If you look him in the face, you see a normal person, like anyone else we have as a patient in the hospital," Barret told The Associated Press on Friday.

Barret declined to name the patient or give details of the accident five years ago in which the man lost most of his face, saying only that he was a Spaniard between 20 and 40 years old and was recovering well. The man cannot yet speak, eat or smile, but can see and swallow saliva, the surgeon said.

Prior to the latest surgery, the patient had undergone surgery nine times and could only breathe and be fed through tubes. He also had problems speaking.

In Britain, the UK Facial Transplantation Research Team called the Spanish operation "the most complex face transplantation operation there has probably been in the world to date." It stopped short, however, of calling it the world's first full-face transplant.

Disney Bringing Back 'Monsters,' Muppets

Monsters and Muppets are coming back to a theater near you.

At a press briefing at The Walt Disney Co. headquarters in Burbank on Thursday, studios chairman Rich Ross said Disney's Pixar division is creating a sequel to "Monsters Inc." that will hit theaters in November 2012.

The original film from 2001 grossed $529 million worldwide. Ross also said the studio was about to give the go-ahead to a new movie featuring the Muppets which will introduce a new character named Walter.

"He's in felt and fur rehab now as we build him," Ross said.

It was not clear when the movie would hit theaters. But he said there will be plenty of cameos, as with all Muppet movies. So watch for Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, too.

James Bobin, the creator of "The Flight of the Conchords" TV series, is set to direct.

The announcements were among several made during a presentation of the studio's upcoming slate of films. Disney is in the midst of selling off its Miramax Films division as it focuses on family-oriented fare from Marvel, Pixar, its own studio and Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks unit.

Among other future films is a retelling of the Winnie the Pooh story using hand-drawn animation; a Tim Burton-led stop-motion animation movie called "Frankenweenie" about a boy's revival of his lost dog; and another Pixar movie called "John Carter of Mars" about a man who goes through a portal to the red planet as imagined by author Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Video Shows Dog Leading Troopers To Fire

A dashcam video from the Alaska State Troopers shows a dog leading them through winding back roads to a blazing fire at his owners' property.

The video on the troopers' website shows the German shepherd running to meet the trooper's vehicle, then racing to the house on Caswell Lakes on April 4.

Troopers say Buddy and his owner, 23-year-old Ben Heinrichs, were in the family workshop when a heater ignited chemicals. Heinrichs told Buddy: "We need to get help."

The dog eventually found a trooper responding to a call about the fire. The State Troopers are presenting a special award Friday to the dog. Buddy will receive an engraved silver-plated dog bowl in Anchorage.

Heinrichs suffered minor flash burns on his face. The workshop was destroyed, but only some window trim on the house was damaged.

AP; Sky News; The US Dept of Commerce; Thomson Reuters; The Walt Disney Company; Reuters; Alaska Dept of Public Safety.

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