"the best post on the subject [of the Stockwell shooting] so far and I agree. A must read." - Tim Worstall, August 21, 2005

"Chris at Optimus In Omnis wrote a thoughtful post in July...his more recent post describes the edginess many Londoners feel" - BBC News Online, August 22, 2005

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Governor of Louisiana has no answers, only tears

The Governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, could only manage to say the words "it's heartbreaking" before breaking into tears at a press conference yesterday. Indeed, the fate that has befallen the Gulf Coast at the hands of Hurricane Katrina is heartbreaking.

The category four storm, which ripped a 500 foot wide gash in the tidal defence systems of Louisiana, has now claimed at least 100 lives. Many more will without doubt be named as dead in the upcoming days and weeks - for now, though, the priority is saving those who still have a chance of survivng the most horrific natural disaster to sweep this part of America in years.

Numerous bodies that are floating down unwanted and unplanned extensions to the Mississippi River are being ignored by the emergency services, who, aside from having to remove water from the city, clean up wreckage and save the lives of those stranded on rooftops of collapsed houses, will also have to contend with the logistical nightmare of transferring 1,000 patients, many of whom are critical, from various hospitals in the region. Also a key priority are the 10,000 or more who still stay stranded in the New Orleans Superdome, which is providing little comfort and, with a gaping hole in its roof, is no place for refugees and orphans of the greatest hurricane to hit Louisiana to stay while the water still billows around them.

Martial law has been introduced, with looters stopped at gunpoint and ordered to return their stolen goods. Most of these people, however, are generally law abiding citizens, and have been forced by the most extraordinary of circumstances to loot businesses, supermarkets and pharmacies for vital rations which they are not getting from the authorities.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Bodies line the streets of the Big Easy - more to come

As the storm subsided and headed north, and daybreak came in Louisiana and Mississippi, it was time for the authorities to begin the clear-up work which will cost nearly $15billion. With the hopeful news that all may have escaped death as a result of the storm nothing more than a memory, it was left to officials to identify the dead - no-one knows exactly how many lives Hurricane Katrina took, but the reports that 40 died in one Mississippi county alone, with current totals running at around 80 dead, are a fearful sign of what may be to come.

The looters set in on New Orleans as those who dared venture out from what remained of the city saw the incredible damage that the force of nature can cause: whole homes levelled to the ground, cars becoming feather-light buoys, bobbing around on several feet of water, only revealing their destructive weight as a cannonball when they collide with the buildings already weakened by the pounding rain and vicious winds that befell the city in what was several hours of terror. Those houses that remain standing are waterlogged on first and second floors, and will be without power for several days to come.

Many of those seeking shelter at the New Orleans Superdome are too scared to come out, seeing the massive gash in the roof that was meant to protect them from the elements. New Orleans officials had yet to carry out tests on the effects of hurricane damage on the building - it seems as if they have their answers. Having been advised to pack three days worth of supplies, those who could muster together enough food and drink have been told that their stay will likely last twice as long. The news is clear, and it is bleak. These people have no homes to go back to.

Conservative estimates put the date at six months from now when the city will be completely purged of the water, brought in by the constant barrage of rain from the Gulf of Mexico. More extreme advisors peg June 2006 as the date that all Louisianans will be able to return to what is left of their homes without stepping in puddles of water.

In the harsh light of day, what appeared yesterday to be a lucky escape was, in fact, only the start of a massive operation to restore a beautiful, roaming city to its former self. Along the way, more bodies are likely to be uncovered in the stinking, waterlogged rubble. Raw sewage lines the streets of New Orleans, and poisonous snakes have been brought out from their hiding holes in the underground system by the waves of water which rocked this city. Many may die from infections or bites, only adding to the ever-increasing total of victims of Katrina's wrath.

The Mayor of New Orleans said that roughly 80% of the city was submerged in water, including both airports and the major route in and out of the city, the I-10. Patients in Tulane Hospital are being airlifted from the hospital because of a secondary major breach of the levee system by waters from Lake Pontchatrain. Currently, the water level in New Orleans is rising by an inch every five minutes. Some areas of the city are underneath 20 feet of water, combined with sewage and the remnants of buildings.

Hurricane Katrina has decimated a city of one million people.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Hurricane Katrina lashes Louisiana, Mississippi and more

For the infirm and unwilling of New Orleans, the towns' Superdome was meant to be a haven away from the fierce winds that escalated to 145 miles per hour and driving rain that most predicted would submerge the sub-sea level city, Louisiana's second city, but first in notoriety. The 77,000 seat jumbo stadium was used by 10,000 families, old people and those who simply could not, or rather, did not, want to leave their beloved city. A further 79,000 stayed at home, deciding that, for better or worse, they were going to weather the storm. Nearly half a million locals evacuated the city, between three and ten feet below sea level for the comparatively higher ground of Baton Rouge. Sadly, no-one could escape the severity of this most potent of category four hurricanes, not even those residing in the state-approved shelter.

The New Orleans Superdome, when built, was puported to be stronger than Rome's Coliseum. While the marvel of the ancient world is worn, it is still left standing, and, moreover, it was dependable to what people expected of it. The Superdome was relieved of roughly one-twelfth of its roof, according to sources inside the supposed safe haven, by Hurricane Katrina, only the fourth category four hurricane to hit mainland America.

When the last, Hurricane Andrew, hit Florida in 1992, it caused insurmountable damage with a value in the billions of dollars. It seems likely that Katrina has done much the same. A press release was rushed out to the news networks before midday, informing those who listened that the New Orleans Metropolitan area had suffered "total structural failure." Essentially, most buildings were razed. This was not even near the eye of the storm, which, thanks to an overnight kink north-eastwards, avoided most of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, instead focusing mainly on small towns further east in Louisiana and on neighbouring states, including Mississippi. While most of Louisiana was spared with paltry 100mph gusts, Mississippi and eastern stretches of the state were clobbered with full-force 120mph gusts, and a constant, sustained barrage of winds nearing 90mph.

The quotes in the media that Katrina had been slowed in any way from a lethal category five storm to a category four are misnomers: the storm dropped somewhere between five and ten miles per hour in windspeed from Sunday night to Monday morning, when it hit land 110 miles south east of New Orleans; it was only five miles per hour away from being bumped back up to a category five. The muddy marshland of the southeastern tip of Louisiana did little to slow down the speed of the winds inside the hurricane, and, travelling due north at 15mph, it was worried that the relatively slow moving yet extremely powerful hurricane would both flood rivers and lakes and create storm surges which could make water hurdle the 28 feet high levees that surround the city of New Orleans, bringing the home of Creole to a legacy befitting that of Atlantis. The pump system installed to help divert water in these situations was also useless - able as it was to only shift two inches of water in the first hour of operation, and a further inch every hour after, it quickly became only another broken thing that the people of Louisiana will have to fix. Needless to say, water quickly backed up: drainage systems in downtown New Orleans could not handle the sudden influx of water brought in by the storm which gathered up a plentiful supply as it hovered over the Gulf of Mexico, causing countless offshore oil floats to close and bringing the price of oil to $70.80 a barrel, and soon the city was covered in a foot-deep puddle.

The Mississippi River had risen by fifteen feet from Sunday evening to Monday morning, and the increased water level coupled with monumental winds meant that a barge was quickly untethered from its mooring and was banging with dangerous force against the support beams of a passenger bridge. In Biloxi, MS, the winds were so strong that a tourist at a Comfort Inn lost half her index finger from the force of her hotel door slamming against it. A nurse who was staying at the hotel gave first aid but it seems unlikely that her finger was saved: emergency services announced they would not be responding to calls, possibly concerned by the sight of boats travelling along a nearby Interstate route on a wave of rainwater.

It seems incredible, then, that at the time these events occured, the eye of the storm was still between 40 and 90 miles away.

As members of the National Guard ushered the inhabitants of the Superdome away from the green grass of the american football field, rapidly becoming a quagmire from the rain teeming in through the gaping hole in the roof of the impenetrable building, their city was surviving the brunt of the greatest storm they had faced in 40 years. As the helpless, probably homeless, victims of nature's terror were led towards covered areas of the stadium, experts were more worried about the storm surges which will only intensify as the night draws in on those in Creole Country. What about Katrina?

It moved on eastwards, through Alabama and Mississippi, leaving a trail of destruction much like that in Louisiana. Slowly moving down through the categories to a category two, it turned northwards, and is expected to fizzle out some time tomorrow morning. Luckily, it seems there are no fatalities. Unluckily, the rebuilding program starts tomorrow.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Less than 2% of nation immune from impending bird flu

The vaccine for H5N1 avian influenza is in such short supply that less than two percent of the population will be immunised for less than seven days, and no further delivery of a preventative, rather than complete immunisation, drug, named Tamiflu is expected until well into 2007. The vast majority of those two percent will consist of high-ranking Government officials, medical staff and undertakers: a rather macabre sign of what to expect from this most unknown of virii, which, if the survival plan for the select few of importance to the nation is to believed, will waylay men, women and children in their thousands. It is no coincidence that undertakers are included in the plan of those to be saved - with the possibility of deaths totalling in the hundreds of thousands, people will be needed to bury our dead - but are these preparations overcompensation of a mediocre danger just one step away from outright scaremongering?

Sadly it seems like neither. This is a very real problem, and we as a nation; we as a continent and now, with the advent of a jet set world, we as a planet, are on the brink of a global pandemic. In 1918 a strain of flu virus wreaked havoc the world over, killing upwards of fifty million people worldwide in the space of a year and a half. That was before the age of mass transportation to far-fetched corners of the globe; before budget airlines and before the greatest movement of population in the civilised history of the Earth. If such a great number could be killed in the era of comparatively restrained transport, how many hundreds of thousands, or even millions, could be killed today?

One can take solace in the fact that the H5 strain of influenza is believed to have the most difficulty transporting itself into humans, and mutating to become a human transmitted illness. However, with the recent news that this particular strain of bird flu has been officially found in pigs, our nearest relatives on the agricultural food chain, and the possibility of three cases in Thailand of human transmission, it seems eminently possible that our last saving grace has been quashed.

For those 900,000 people assured of getting an immunisation jab, it is not even definitive that they will not stand a chance of catching the disease. One of the reasons that the common cold still plagues the lives of millions every year is that, like all forms of influenza, it is a virus, and not a bacterium-based illness. Virii can not be treated effectively by active or passive immunisation, and the fact that they so willingly mutate into more deadly, medicine-resistant strains makes the chance of escaping the reaches of the virus yet smaller. The stockpile which the Government has is woefully small, and the stockpile which they are building is still not enough to immunise even half of the British population. Just over fourteen and a half million jabs have been ordered, at an expense of £100 million, and when they arrive in March 2007, it will be either too little, or too late.

According to experts, if bird flu is transmitted to humans, somewhere between five and ten percent of the population will die. One must ask why, exactly, when the most abhorrent disease in nearly 100 years is just weeks - or days - away from landing on our shores, we have not followed the lead of the Dutch authorities, and isolated our fowl to try and create a stopgap in the hope of avoiding deaths reaching up into the thousands, or indeed, millions.

"Muslim insurgents" to blame for ferry bomb, injuring 30

An improvised explosive device placed next to containers filled with Liquified Petroleum Gas tore through a ferry docked at a port in the Philippines, just hours after the Philippines national security advisor said that a terrorist cell numbering ten people willing to act as suicide bombers was currently making their home in the capital, with two known to be residing in Manilla, the nations' capital city.

The perpetrators of the attack are believed to be either Al'Qaeda operatives, or the more localised branch of terrorists named Abu Sayyaf. The ten terrorists believed to be in the country are affiliated to the Jemaah Islamiyah group of terrorists, who make their home in Indonesia and have strong connections to Al'Qaeda. The Philippines acts as a stop-off for money traffickers who travel from the Middle Eastern states towards the West, where the funds go towards creating terrorist missions in mainland Europe and North America. All three terrorist groups are believed to be working together, with strong ties towards bringing down the vast majority of the population in the Philippines, 92% of whom are Roman Catholic or Protestant. Only five percent of the Philippino population are practising Muslims.

Of the thirty people injured, six have serious burns, and nine children were amongst the casualties. One of those who suffered the most serious burns injuries was an armed soldier posted to watch guard over the passengers entering the ferry with any weapons. A UH-1H helicopter transported the most seriously injured to nearby hospitals, while less serious ailments were treated near the scene.

The port itself was only opened days earlier, having been built using money from the United States, by US Affairs Secretary to the Philippines Darryl Johnson. It is not yet known whether the attack was aimed specifically at an American-funded port or if it was a more generalised attack, the likes of which have haunted the Philippines this year, including an attack not more than eighteen days ago, which injured 26. Three of the bombers on that day were released less than a week before this latest incident. This believed same group was also responsible for the 2002 attack on a Bali nightclub which killed over 200, many of whom were tourists.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

41 dead in fifth plane crash this month

With eerie nods toward the other plane crashes that have occurred during the summer months across the world, 41 people were killed in a plane crash in the north Peruvian jungle Tuesday, with the remaining 57 people treated in local hospitals for varying injuries, with the distinct possibility that the number of dead could rise in the upcoming days.

The Boeing 737, operated by Tans Airlines, was carrying 16 foreigners amongst its 92 passengers, with 6 crew members serving them on their flight, which crashed deep in the swamps of the Peruvian jungle, just 5 miles away from the airport at which it was scheduled to land. Struck from the sky by a severe storm, the incident is scarily reminiscent to the original fears behind the Toronto air crash a month ago, where initial thoughts were that lightning had hit the plane and sent it falling from the sky. This latest incident brings into question the judgement of pilots and air traffic controllers in deciding whether to fly or not in inclement weather, especially when it seems as if there is such a serious risk of being affected by gathering storms.

As rescuers continued their hunt today, not for bodies, but for charred remains of those passengers already known as dead, parts of them lying in one of two local morgues being used for crash victims, the officials concerned with identifying the remains were not optimistic about matching names on the list of those known to be dead to their body parts. Tans spokesperson Jorge Belevan believes that the crash, while aided by the poor conditions, could have been the result of wind shear, in which a quick change of air direction makes the air pressure flowing below the wings, keeping the plane in the air, suddenly decrease, leaving a huge resultant force towards the ground, causing the plane to quite literally drop out of the air. In the minutes before the crash, the pilot was known to be considering a controlled crash landing in the marsh areas where several bodies were found.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Wearing their best wedding clothes, they were tried in court

A $45 million smuggling ring into the United States was interrupted Sunday by the promise of a marriage in holy matrimony - between two undercover FBI agents. Nearly 90 American and Asian men and women were arrested just minutes before they thought they were heading for a luxury yacht to watch a wedding that would have cost in the region of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

One of the arrested guests had with him a pair of pure gold Rolex watches, an example of the selubrious lifestyle that the peddlers of vice live. Of the $45 million net worth obtained, $4.5 million was counterfeit US Dollars; several hundred thousand dollars worth of drugs and fake Viagra, and over $40 million worth of fake cigarettes, some branded as Malboro. All three of the above goods were manufactured in North Korean or Chinese sweatshops, where unskilled workers toil in long days for a pittance, giving those who pass on the counterfeit goods tremendous profit margins, especially when selling to the comparatively rich Western civilisation.

Immediately following the arrests on the American shore, there were additional follow-up raids on properties from East coast to West, detaining a further fifty nine. Appearing in court the following day, many of the wedding guests were still wearing their tuxedo and ballgowns.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Clutching at the flag of a nation that killed her son

With £1.20 in his pocket, on his way to help a friend fix a lightbulb, Jean Charles de Menezes was shot down by armed officers on July 22. The furore which has erupted following the shooting of an innocent man is possibly even more shocking than the cold execution itself.

The harrowing footage of Maria de Menezes, clutching at a Union Jack while trying to stave off tears, shown tonight on ITV News, will forever be imprinted in the minds of anyone who viewed it. In this age of orbiting satellites, where 30-second flashes of video can be sent worldwide in an instant, this is the picture that will define a generation - will define a change in the mentality of a nation, and, more importantly, will define the future of the de Menezes family.

That very same Union Jack that Maria de Menezes held to tightly onto was paid for out of the pocket of a man scrimping enough money to return to his homeland so that he could provide for his family. To lose a son is a bad enough experience; to lose a son to a catastrophic mistake which was only the beginning of a farcical cover-up by the British police state is yet more disturbing.

Metropolitan Police officals are adamant that there was no CCTV footage to try and acertain exactly what happened, and to confirm the witness reports leaked last week. London Underground workers beg to differ.

Quite who is telling the truth is not obvious, but one thing is for sure: this is the absolute last thing that is needed for a police force who have lied to a nation, have been accused of a cover-up in an attempt to downplay their blunders, and have confirmed that they have offered anywhere from £15,000 to £50,000 in what the de Menezes family called "blood money."

It would be a godsend for Sir Ian Blair if the CCTV footage does exist, not because it will put his officers in the clear, but because it will provide definitive information about the events of July 22. For Maria de Menezes, it would provide one last view of her son, before he was so brutally killed.

Two Brazilian investigators arrived at Heathrow today to launch their own inquiry. One can only hope they don't fall into the same traps our investigators have.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Modern-day Bonnie and Clyde return to Tennessee

The Bonnie and Clyde for the 21st Century have been returned back to the state in which they started their two day chase from the federal authorities after shooting dead a Tennessee policeman in a daring escape from the long hand of the law, and a 41-year prison sentence.

Kingston, Tennessee is the epitome of a Southern town - warm hospitality is brought about by a tight-knit community who give each other nicknames. The Kingston police force was no different, dubbing Wayne Morgan, aged 56, 'Cotton'. Morgan was working at the Kingston courthouse on a sunny Tuesday, August 9, when George Hyatte, a moderately well-known criminal who had escaped from jail five times previous, was brought in for sentencing on robbery and aggravated assault charges. It was as Hyatte was being led out of the courthouse towards the prison van which was waiting for him and other inmates that his crazed wife attempted one of the most audacious breakouts that middle America has seen in the past twenty years.

Jennifer Hyatte, beau of George, had worked herself for the Tennessee justice system; it was a cruel twist of irony that she met her husband-to-be in jail, where she was working as a health advisor, and he was serving a short-term sentence. She was fired from her job at the Northwest Correctional Facility just five months after starting work there because she was sneaking in food to her lover, to whom she had fallen in a whirlwind romance.

After applying for permission to marry the inmate, Jennifer and George Hyatte became man and wife in May of this year, and it is likely that they quickly planned their attempt to break from the shackles that separated Jennifer, then on the right side of the law, and her husband.

Jennifer Hyatte had, possibly with the help of an accomplice, set up a second escape vehicle, a gold minivan, to accompany the first, an SUV, from which Hyatte burst out, unloading gunfire on the helpless correctional officers outside the Roane County Courthouse in Tennessee. 'Cotton' Morgan was left dead from a hail of bullets and another officer narrowly missed being hit. Luckily for the police officers, they managed to return fire at Hyatte as she smuggled the shackled man into the SUV, hitting her once in the right leg.

What followed was a chase across three state lines, involving the FBI as they searched for a known criminal who often deferred to violence when put under pressure and a newly-minted killer, infatuated with her husband to the point of taking a bullet in order to achieve his temporary freedom.

The fugitive couple switched vehicles quarter of a mile from the courthouse and headed towards the Kentucky border. From there they travelled the length of the state in the gold minivan before stopping at a motel in Erlanger, KY, just miles away from the Ohio River, within close proximity of a major international airport. The police imposed restrictions of departures from the airport, which gave the couple precious hours to make their escape from the motel before the police raided it, finding only the abandoned minivan. By this point the couple had travelled 217 miles, and been on the run for over 24 hours.

A cabbie accepted $200 in cash to drive the Hyattes from Erlanger, KY to "the cheapest hotel you can find" in Columbus, Ohio. George and Jennifer, who was now badly limping from the gunshot wound to her leg, said they had lost all forms of identification and needed the driver to check-in a room on their behalf at the Columbus branch of America's Best Value Inn chain of hotels. Not knowing the seriousness of the situation, he did so and the Hyattes were now three states away from the starting point of their manic flee from the law.

It was only later that the driver, coaxed on by a friend, would call the police to inform them that he may, in fact, have driven two of America's most wanted to their possible safe haven from the police.

Officers acted quickly on this information, the disappointment of missing the couple in Kentucky half a day earlier still fresh in their mind and quickly surrounded the room the couple were believed to be staying in, commandeering both the car park of the hotel and the adjoining rooms. Calmly, one female officer called the Hyatte's room and informed them they were surrounded. Minutes later, Jennifer Hyatte came out of her room and surrendered, with her husband shortly following her. Police were relieved that the shootout which they believed would be inevitable had been avoided.

Both were taken to a local jail, with an appearance in court set for the following day. Jennifer was examined by a medical officer and her wound was found not to be fatal. After sentencing on August 11, an extradition hearing was set for August 19.

At that hearing, the two Hyattes snidely said to the presiding judge "send me to Tennessee," in what was a ten minute hearing. George Hyatte, upon his return to Tennessee, will continue his 41-year sentence. Jennifer Hyatte will face charges of murder and aiding the escape of a convict.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The call of nature leads to the death of an innocent man

A soldier-cum-police officer has the most important decision any man - anyone, mortal or immortal - could possibly make: the distinction between life and death. With an armed band of policemen and women giving him support, waiting for his single command to shoot, he crouches behind a wall next to a block of flats. A man exits from a flat suspected of giving a punishment-free solace to men who wished to inflict death upon their fellow countrymen. The man has to make a decision.

Instead, he is busy making patterns on the wall with his own urine.

The real reason Jean Charles de Menezes, the 27-year old electrician from Brazil died was that the man given the responsibility of identifying him as he left his home was caught short. While concentrating on peeing, the officer claimed he could not get a positive (or, as it would have been, negative) identification. Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume, at least one of the many officers who were tracking de Menezes that morning would have to identify the man as one of the terror suspects.

Apparently not.

During the time in which de Menezes walked to a bus stop, boarded two buses in the space of a few minutes and then made his way to Stockwell tube station, not one of the undercover police officers shadowing him even thought of taking a look at his face to see if he was actually the man he was accused of being. Seemingly, the only sane officer on the Metropolitan police force (a man named only as Hotel 3) was bowled over by a wave of ineptitude and stubbornness that a dead terrorist was better than an alive terrorist. Hotel 3 asked to take de Menezes into custody. Quietly. Without bullets. His higher-ups refused, seemingly wanting this confrontation where they could bring down one of the supposed lynchpins of the attempted attacks on the capital a day earlier. With this public arrest, people would be reassured: we would be winning this war on terrorists. We would, as the leaders of our police force and our nation, along with various truly good-meaning souls who have become entwined with deceitful characters, not be afraid.

Tell me why, then, I was looking twice at everyone who boarded buses I was on in the weeks after 7/7? Why, when I got on seven planes in sixteen days, I was praying that we would not be blown out of the sky or flown into the ground? Why have I become so xenophobic that I carefully watched a young woman of Arab descent who was so cold onboard our plane to Gatwick that she insisted on covering her whole body with a wooly blanket, worrying that she would never return from her hiding place and her rucksack, stowed above her head, would signal the end for all aboard that flight?

I am afraid. I am really, very afraid and these turn of events have made me into a worse person. I get a twinge of guilt every time I look for a second longer at someone who is acting suspiciously, not because I think it is unnecessary but because with each glance I sink lower and lower into moral depravity.

Hotel 3, shot down on his request, then had to fall back and allow de Menezes on the tube. It is at this point that the lies the British public have been spun over the past three weeks really start to snowball.

Jean Charles de Menezes vaulted the ticket barrier, much like Yassin Hassan Omar was seen doing on CCTV one day earlier.

False. Just like any other law-abiding citizen, he paid for his last ride. Indeed, showing this "we are not afraid" attitude that those living in Britain are said to have in abundance, he was taking public transport just a day after the attempted bombings.

Jean Charles de Menezes had clothing that could have resembled a bomb belt, or was wearing a backpack.

Absolutely false, as the pictures of his dead body on the floor of the train, stained red with blood, shows.

Yes, he ran for the train, like any good commuter worth his salt does. The fact of whether de Menezes did these things or not is not even the problem - the unarmed, undercover officers following him were not seriously alarmed at this point, instead three of them taking their places on the train, including the ever-present Hotel 3. It should be pointed out at this stage that the police force still had absolutely no idea of whether this man they were following was a terrorist or an electrician. The four armed police officers from SO19 who had trailed de Menezes "as a precaution," according to PC Cressida Dick, made their way to the platform of Stockwell station. Hotel 3 pointed out de Menezes (in what would be the single mistake he made) before trying to detain the Brazilian, who had left his seat in the confusion of four armed police officers storming the train he was on.

Hotel 3 managed to pin de Menezes down on his seat, to the point that he could not move. This was seemingly not enough for some trigger-happy SO19 officers, who decided to unload eight bullets into his head and chest, and three into the seat behind him, from what one eyewitness referenced in the leaked report as "twelve inches." Hotel 3 narrowly dodged the hail of bullets, which left de Menezes stone cold dead.

Just three weeks ago, I was a staunch supporter of the Metropolitan Police and their shoot to kill policy, under the pretence that the suspect had been acting suspiciously, was wearing what looked like a bomb belt and had evaded police officers. I still am a supporter of the policy, as long as the person in question actually does any of those three things. If, as happened here, none of those suspicions were raised, and if, as happened here, any kind of identification was forgone, I am totally against it.

It certainly does not help to be lied to in the aftermath, that is for sure.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Second air accident in three days leaves questions

For the third time in two weeks a passenger plane was left in flames, and for the second time all on board that plane were killed, denting the image of airflight as the safest form of transport in the world. Today, in West Venezuela, in the Sierra de Perija mountain range, the McDonnell Douglas 82 plane, operated by West Carribean Airways crashlanded just minutes after sending an SOS message to air traffic control, in which he requested an emergency landing at an airport inside the Venezuela/Columbia border. The flight was planned to land in Martinique, taking off from Panama.

All 160 people on board, including 8 crew members, are believed to have not survived the crash, deep in the jungle of Venezuela. Most of the passengers were believed to be from Martinique, according to French civil aviation spokespersons. The passengers on the flight had chartered the aircraft for a week-long holiday in Panama. When the emergency request to land was first received, the pilot relayed to air traffic controllers that one of the engines on the twin-engined aircraft had stopped - while an aircraft such as the MD82 can survive capably on one engine, if, as seems to have happened here, the second engine gave way, the plane quickly loses altitude and, above a heavy mountainous area, would be in peril.

This comes as a blow to Boeing who now have to face the blame for two malfunctioning aircraft crashing in just three days. Boeing, who bought the McDonnell Douglas line of aircraft in 1997, were also the makers of the Boeing 737 involved in the crash over Greek airspace on Sunday. These two crashes come just days after the miraculous escape of over 200 passengers on board an Air France Airbus plane which spontaneously burst into flames after overshooting the runway and falling into a chasm at Toronto's Pearson Airport. Luckily on that day, all passengers and crew were able to escape the plane without harm.

Disgustingly, it emerged yesterday that the person who claimed he was sent a text message from one of the passengers on the grounded Greek flight saying "farewell cousin" was in fact a hoaxer. Greek authorities arrested him last night, at the same time as they raided the offices of Helios Airlines as a result of claims that this was not the first time that a Helios plane had experienced problems regarding its air conditioning units.

Whether this recent outburst of plane-related accidents, coupled with the troublesome times at Heathrow regarding industrial action by Gate Gourmet, the company providing British Airways with in-flight food, will discourage the general public is unknown. It should be noted, however, that air travel is still the safest form of transport.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Cypriot Airliner crashes, terrorism possible

115 passengers and 6 crew members aboard a Helios Airlines plane are thought to be dead and the circumstances surrounding the crashing of the plane near mountains north of Athens are suspicious today, with terrorism a distinct possibility.

The airliner, a Boeing 737, which was travelling from Cyrpus to Prague, was being accompanied by two Greek F-16 fighter jets before it fell from the air, as a result of Greek air traffic control losing contact with the pilot. Reports from the jets claim that one of the two pilots aboard the airliner was unseen; the other was slumped over in his chair. Upon crashlanding in woodland north of the Greek capital, fire crews were dispatched immediately in order to put out the "fire, [and move] lots of debris," said Fire Commander Nikos Papamichos. Eyewitnesses are saying that it is unlikely that there are any survivors, with the plane being engulfed in flames.

Speculation is rife that this may, however, have been a freak accident. Unconfirmed reports claim that the pilot, earlier in the flight, sent a message citing problems with the air conditioning aboard the plane, which could have resulted in a dirty airflow, poisoning the pilots and the passengers aboard.

12:10pm A text message sent by one of the passengers aboard the plane to his cousin just moments before the crash seems to have determined the cause of this horrible accident: "the pilot has turned blue [due to the cold.]" What followed was a sombre message of "cousin farewell" before the passenger jet hit ground.

5:58pm: Not a single life was spared in the indescriminate fire which still rages around the crumpled remains of flight ZU522, a harsh contrast with the rejoiceful aftermath of the Air France jet which crashed at Toronto's Pearson Airport just weeks ago. Of the 121 people on board, 48 were children, travelling on their way to Prague from Larnaca in Cyprus. Various sources have emerged which differ on key facts: Haris Thrasou, the Cypriot Transport Minister, claimed that the 737s used by Helios Airlines have had decompression problems in the past, where the pressure surrounding the plane far outweighs that in the cabin, resulting in a lack of oxygen, a problem exacerbated by the news that the plane was flying over 30,000 feet, which only shortens the time one can survive if such a thing occurs. Representatives of Helios Airlines refute that fact.

Another disputed point is the sources from some Greek news agencies, but not all, that at least one of the fighter pilots who flew alongside the aircraft saw oxygen masks dangling from the ceiling of the cockpit, which would suggest that the cause of this crash was indeed decompression of a serious nature.