May 22, 2013 / 6:29 am
Six Egyptian policemen and a border guard kidnapped by suspected militants in the volatile Sinai Peninsula last week were freed by their captors Wednesday after successful mediation, the country's military spokesman said.
The release, which followed a security buildup and a massive show of force by the military in northern Sinai, brought an end to a crisis that had stirred anger with the public and within the security forces and held the potential to embarrass both the military and Islamist President Mohammed Morsi had it dragged on.
The captors freed the seven men early Wednesday in the middle of the desert, and some were able later to speak to their families by telephone, according to officials and state TV. Military spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said on the army's official Facebook page that the release came about as a "result of efforts by military intelligence, in co-operation with the honourable tribal leaders and Sinai residents."
Morsi, however, trumpeted their crisis' end as the outcome of an "operation" that showcased "perfect" co-ordination between the armed forces, the police and security agencies. He also called for unity in a nation deeply divided, with the president and his Islamist backers in one camp and moderate Muslims, liberals, leftists and Christians in the other.
After their release, the men were flown in a military helicopter to an air force base in a Cairo suburb, where Morsi greeted them on the tarmac with a kiss on each cheek as they disembarked. Prime Minister Hesham Kandil and Defence Minister Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi were also on hand to receive the men.
Morsi later thanked the armed forces, security agencies as well as the people of Sinai and their tribal chiefs for their efforts to resolve the standoff. He also vowed to hunt down the kidnappers, saying "there will be no going back on bringing the criminals to account."
May 22, 2013 / 6:27 am
A man was fatally shot when a team of FBI agents swarmed an apartment complex near Universal Studios in Orlando.
The shooting happened early Wednesday.
The FBI did not immediately return a phone call early Wednesday from The Associated Press seeking details.
An FBI spokesman told Orlando television stations that their agent was conducting official duties when the shooting occurred. No further details were released, but the agency says an update is expected later Wednesday.
WKMG Channel 6 is reporting the victim had connections with the Boston bombing suspects.
May 22, 2013 / 6:13 am
A judge in Italy has ordered the captain of the Costa Concordia to stand trial in the shipwreck of the cruise liner, which struck a reef off Tuscany last year, killing 32 people.
Francesco Schettino will be the only defendant in the trial, which begins on July 9 in the Tuscan town of Grosseto. The indictment was announced on Wednesday.
Five other defendants successfully sought plea bargains in their cases, which are now being handled separately.
Schettino is charged with manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship while many of the 4,200 passengers and crew were still aboard. He denies the charges.
The Concordia ran aground off the tiny island of Giglio. Schettino's lawyer says he faces as much as 20 years in prison if convicted.
May 22, 2013 / 6:09 am
An 80-year-old Japanese extreme skier who climbed Mount Everest five years ago, but just missed becoming the oldest man to reach the summit, was back on the mountain Wednesday to make another attempt at the title.
Unfortunately for Yuichiro Miura, the 81-year-old Nepalese man who nabbed the record just before he could in 2008 is fast on his heels.
Miura on Wednesday was already in the "death zone," the steep, icy, oxygen-deficient area close to the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) summit. His rival, Min Bahadur Sherchan, from Nepal, was at the base camp preparing for his own attempt on the summit next week.
On his expedition's website, Miura explained his attempt to scale Everest at such an advanced age: "It is to challenge (my) own ultimate limit. It is to honour the great Mother Nature."
He said a successful climb would raise the bar for what is possible.
"And if the limit of age 80 is at the summit of Mt. Everest, the highest place on earth, one can never be happier," he said.
Miura reached the South Col, the jumping-off point for most final ascents, on Tuesday, according to his website, which also posted pictures of him eating hand-rolled sushi inside a tent.
"Miura is reported to be in good health and he and his team are aiming to reach the summit on Thursday morning," said Gyanendra Shrestha, a Nepalese mountaineering official at the base camp.
If Miura makes it to the top, he would capture the record. But it would only last a few days if Sherchan is able to follow him.
Miura's daughter, Emili Miura, said he "doesn't really care" about the rivalry. "He's doing it for his own challenge," she said.
The situation was not too different five years ago, when, at the age of 75, Miura sought to recapture the title of oldest man to summit the mountain. He had set the record in 2003 at age 70, but it was later broken twice by slightly older Japanese climbers.
He reached the summit on May 26, 2008, at the age of 75 years and 227 days, according to Guinness World Records. But the record eluded him because Sherchan had scaled the summit the day before, at the age of 76 years and 340 days.
Sherchan, a former Gurkha soldier in the British army, first began mountaineering in 1960 when he climbed Mount Dhaulagiri, the 8,167-meter (26,790-foot) high peak in Nepal, according to his grandson, Manoj Guachan. Always an adventurer, and unbowed by age, he walked the length of Nepal in 2003.
Sherchan and his team said Wednesday that they were prepared for their new climb, despite digestive problems he suffered several days ago.
"Our team leader has just arrived back at base camp and we are holding a team meeting on when exactly I will head up to the summit," Sherchan, who uses a hearing aid, said by telephone from the base camp. "I am fine and in good health. I am ready to take up the challenge. Our plan is to reach the summit within one week."
It takes three to four days for climbers to reach Camp 4 on South Col from base camp, and another day to reach the summit.
There are only a few windows of good weather during the climbing season in May for people to attempt the summit. That could favour Miura.
Conditions should be favourable Wednesday and Thursday, but they were expected to deteriorate after Friday, said Shrestha, the mountaineering official at base camp.
Sherchan's team is also facing financial difficulties. It hasn't received the financial help that the Nepal government announced it would provide them. Purna Chandra Bhattarai, chief of Nepal's mountaineering department, said the aid proposal was still under consideration.
Miura faced difficulties of his own.
He fractured his pelvis and left thigh bone in a 2009 skiing accident, and had an operation in January for an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, his fourth heart surgery since 2007, according to Emili Miura.
His daughter said Miura decided to go ahead with the expedition despite the surgery because he felt that at age 80, he was running out of time.
"If he was in his 60s, he probably would have waited for another year or two, but at the age of 80 he's not getting any younger. He has a strong determination that now is the time," she said in a phone interview.
May 21, 2013 / 7:27 pm
Rescue workers neared the end of the search for survivors and the dead in the Oklahoma City suburb where a mammoth tornado destroyed countless homes, cleared lots down to bare red earth and claimed 24 lives, including those of nine children.
Scientists concluded the storm was a rare and extraordinarily powerful type of twister known as an EF5, ranking it at the top of the enhanced Fujita scale used to measure tornado strength. Those twisters are capable of lifting reinforced buildings off the ground, hurling cars like missiles and stripping trees completely free of bark.
After nearly 24 hours of searching, Moore's fire chief said he was confident there were no more bodies or survivors in the rubble.
"I'm 98 per cent sure we're good," Gary Bird said Tuesday at a news conference with the governor, who had just completed an aerial tour of the disaster zone.
Authorities were so focused on the search effort that they had yet to establish the full scope of damage along the storm's long, ruinous path.
They did not know how many homes were gone or how many families had been displaced. Emergency crews had trouble navigating devastated neighbourhoods because there were no street signs left. Some rescuers used smartphones or GPS devices to guide them through areas with no recognizable landmarks.
The death toll was revised downward from 51 after the state medical examiner said some victims may have been counted twice in the confusion. More than 200 people were treated at area hospitals.
By Tuesday afternoon, every damaged home in Moore had been searched at least once, Bird said. His goal was to conduct three searches of each building just to be certain there were no more bodies or survivors.
The fire chief was hopeful that could be completed before nightfall but efforts were being hampered by heavy rain.
Crews also continued a brick-by-brick search of the rubble of a school that was blown apart with many children inside.
No additional survivors or bodies have been found since Monday night, Bird said.
Survivors emerged with harrowing accounts of the storm's wrath, which many endured as they shielded loved ones.
Chelsie McCumber grabbed her 2-year-old son, Ethan, wrapped him in jackets and covered him with a mattress before they squeezed into a coat closet of their house. McCumber sang to her child when he complained it was getting hot inside the small space.
"I told him we're going to play tent in the closet," she said, beginning to cry.
"I just felt air so I knew the roof was gone," she said Tuesday, standing under the sky where her roof should have been. The home was littered with wet grey insulation and all of their belongings.
"Time just kind of stood still" in the closet, she recalled. "I was kind of holding my breath thinking this isn't the worst of it. I didn't think that was it. I kept waiting for it to get worse."
"When I got out, it was worse than I thought," she said.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin lamented the loss of life, especially of the nine children killed, but she celebrated the town's resilience.
"We will rebuild, and we will regain our strength," Fallin said.
From the air, large stretches of the town could be seen where every home had been cut to pieces. Some homes were sucked off their concrete slabs. A pond was filled with piles of wood and an overturned trailer.
Also visible were large patches of red earth where the tornado scoured the land down to the soil. Some tree trunks were still standing, but the winds ripped away their leaves, limbs and bark.
In revising its estimate of the storm's power, the National Weather Service said the tornado, which was on the ground for 40 minutes, was a top-of-the-scale EF5 twister with winds of at least 200 mph (320 kph).
The agency upgraded the tornado from an EF4 based on reports from a damage-assessment team, said spokeswoman Keli Pirtle. Monday's twister was at least a half-mile (nearly a kilometre) wide, and it was the first EF5 tornado of 2013.
Other search-and-rescue teams focused their efforts at Plaza Towers Elementary School, where the storm ripped off the roof, knocked down walls and destroyed the playground as students and teachers huddled in hallways and bathrooms.
Seven of the nine dead children were killed at the school, but several students were pulled alive from under a collapsed wall and other heaps of mangled debris. Rescue workers passed the survivors down a human chain of parents and neighbourhood volunteers. Parents carried children in their arms to a triage centre in the parking lot. Some students looked dazed, others terrified.
Plaza Towers and another school in Oklahoma City that was not as severely damaged did not have reinforced storm shelters, or safe rooms, said Albert Ashwood, director of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.
More than 100 schools across the state do have safe rooms, he said. He added that a shelter would not necessarily have saved more lives at Plaza Towers.
Officials were still trying to account for a handful of children not found at the school who may have gone home early with their parents, Bird said Tuesday.
President Barack Obama pledged to provide federal help and mourned the death of young children who were killed while "trying to take shelter in the safest place they knew their school."
Moore has been one of the fastest-growing suburbs of Oklahoma City, attracting middle-income families and young couples looking for stable schools and affordable housing. Many residents commute to jobs in Oklahoma City or to nearby Tinker Air Force Base.
Associated Press writers Tim Talley, Ramit Plushnick-Masti and Nomaan Merchant and Associated Press photographer Sue Ogrocki contributed to this report.
May 21, 2013 / 1:01 pm
Emergency crews searched the broken remnants of an Oklahoma City suburb Tuesday for survivors of a massive tornado that flattened homes and demolished an elementary school. Authorities lowered the death toll to 24, down from 51, but warned those numbers were expected to climb back up.
Some victims are believed to have been counted twice in the early chaos of the storm, said Amy Elliot, a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner's office. Downed communication lines and problems sharing information with officers exacerbated the problem, she said.
The death toll included at least nine children. Gov. Mary Fallin said authorities did not know how many people were still missing, but they vowed to account for every resident.
"We will rebuild and we will regain our strength," Fallin said.
The ferocious storm, clocking winds of up to 200 mph (320 kph), ripped through the town of Moore in a central U.S. region known as Tornado Alley, reducing homes to piles of splintered wood. Less than 1 per cent of all tornadoes reach such wind speed.
In Washington, President Barack Obama pledged urgent government help.
"In an instant, neighbourhoods were destroyed, dozens of people lost their lives, many more were injured," Obama said. "Among the victims were young children trying to take shelter in the safest place they knew â€” their school."
The storm left scores of blocks barren and dark in Moore, a community of 41,000 people 10 miles (16 kilometres) south of Oklahoma City.
New search-and-rescue teams moved at dawn Tuesday, taking over from the 200 or so emergency responders who worked all night. A helicopter shined a spotlight from above to aid in the search.
Fire Chief Gary Bird said fresh teams would search the whole community at least two more times to ensure that no survivors, or any of the dead, were overlooked. Crews painted an 'X' on each structure to note it had been checked.
More than 200 people had been treated at area hospitals.
Other search-and-rescue teams focused their efforts at Plaza Towers Elementary, where the storm ripped off the roof, knocked down walls and turned the playground into a mass of twisted plastic and metal as students and teachers huddled in hallways and bathrooms.
Seven of the nine dead children were killed at the school, but several students were pulled alive from under a collapsed wall and other heaps of mangled debris. Rescue workers passed the survivors down a human chain of parents and neighbourhood volunteers. Parents carried children in their arms to a triage centre in the parking lot.
May 21, 2013 / 8:43 am
Paris police say Notre Dame Cathedral has been evacuated after a man committed suicide in the 850-year-old monument and tourist site.
A police official says officers closed the cathedral to the public after the incident Tuesday afternoon. The official could not confirm French media reports that the man had shot himself.
Officials with the cathedral said only that it had been evacuated. That is highly unusual for the cathedral, visited by some 13 million people from around the world every year.
This year Notre Dame got new bells as part of celebrations marking 850 years since construction on the cathedral began.
May 21, 2013 / 8:36 am
A co-ordinated Taliban assault on checkpoints in southern Afghanistan killed four police before a counterattack drove the insurgents back, Afghan officials said Tuesday. Also, at least 10 other police died in two attacks in the country's west.
The deadly 24 hours came during a crucial season of fighting that is testing the abilities of Afghan security forces as international troops increasingly draw back, preparing for withdrawal of most foreign soldiers by the end of next year.
The fierce battle in Helmand province started two nights ago. Omar Zawak, spokesman for the provincial governor, said about 500 insurgents attacked multiple police checkpoints from several directions. A NATO official said that number was greatly overstated, and the Taliban agreed.
Fighting raged for more than a day in the hotly contested Sangin district before police reinforcements arrived from the provincial capital, Lashkar Gar. Police were finally able to beat back the insurgents by Tuesday morning, Zawak said. He said four police were killed and seven wounded, while 26 Taliban were killed, though government forces recovered only three enemy bodies.
The Taliban claimed on Monday night that they had seized six of the checkpoints. By Tuesday afternoon, insurgent spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi was no longer making that claim but said that the fighting was not yet over.
Government spokesman Zawak portrayed the successful defence as showing the strength of the Afghan forces, though both the Taliban and the U.S.-led military coalition downplayed the size of the attacking force.
The international force "is not seeing anywhere near the reported 500-1,000 insurgents," coalition spokesman Col. Thomas Collins said. "Our reporting shows there were about 10 groups of four or five fighters each doing drive-by shootings against five police checkpoints. Local Afghan security forces called for (Afghan) reinforcements, and none of the checkpoints were overrun."
The Taliban's Ahmadi said the attacking force numbered less than 100.
May 21, 2013 / 6:44 am
6:30 a.m. update: Medical examiner's office revises death toll from Oklahoma tornado to at least 24.
A tornado of rare power roared through an Oklahoma City suburb, flattening neighbourhoods with winds up to 200 mph (320 kilometres) and destroying at least one school. Officials said children were among the dead.
The death toll was expected to rise, an Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office spokeswoman said. Rescuers swarmed the debris as darkness fell and rain began to fall. More than 140 people were being treated at hospitals, including about 70 children. Some were in critical condition.
"Hearts are broken" for parents looking for their children, Governor Mary Fallin told a news conference.
The ferocious storm, less than 1 per cent of all tornadoes reach such wind speed, ripped through the suburb of Moore in a Midwest region of the U.S. known as Tornado Alley. Block after block lay in ruins. Cars and trucks were left crumpled.
The National Weather Service estimated that the tornado reached up to a half-mile (.8 kilometres) wide and was an EF-4 on the enhanced five-point Fujita scale, the second most powerful type of twister.
In video footage, the dark funnel cloud moved slowly across the landscape for more than half an hour, scattering shards of wood, pieces of insulation, shingles and glass over the streets.
The focus quickly turned to Plaza Towers Elementary School, where the storm tore off the roof, knocked down walls and turned the playground into a mass of twisted plastic and metal.
Several children were pulled alive from the rubble. Rescue workers passed them down a human chain to a triage centre in the parking lot.
James Rushing, who lives across the street, heard reports of the approaching tornado and ran to the school, where his 5-year-old foster son, Aiden, attends classes. Rushing believed he would be safer there.
"About two minutes after I got there, the school started coming apart," he said.
The students were put in the restroom.
After the tornado passed, Tiffany Thronesberry said she got a panicked call from her mother, Barbara Jarrell.
"I got a phone call from her screaming, 'Help, help! I can't breathe. My house is on top of me!'" Thronesberry said. She hurried to her mother's house, where first responders had already pulled her out with cuts and bruises.
Dangers remained. Downed power lines and open gas lines posed a risk Monday night, Police Capt. Dexter Nelson said. Television footage showed at least one fire in the debris.
May 21, 2013 / 6:29 am
A North Carolina woman is charged with trying to poison five family members after one of them refused to share some cheese with her.
A statement from the Nash County Sheriff's Office said 24-year-old Tiara Drake wanted some of a relative's cheese on Friday, but the woman refused to share.
The sheriff's office said Drake awakened before the rest of the family the next morning and used detergent, window cleaner and a household cleanser to poison the cheese. The rest of the family made breakfast with the cheese and began eating it before one of them determined it was tainted.
Drake is charged with five counts of attempted first-degree murder and jailed under $50,000 bond. She had a court appearance Monday but didn't have an attorney at the hearing.
May 21, 2013 / 6:18 am
As soon as I saw the tornado warnings on TV, I had to leave the office right away. I had photographed about a dozen tornados in my decade in Oklahoma and if I didn't get into my car before the funnel cloud swept through, I knew I would get stuck in traffic and arrive too late at the scene.
By the time I got to Moore, all I could see was destruction. Mangled pieces of metal wrapped up in bare tree limbs. Adults carrying children in their arms. Shredded pieces of wood, cinder block and insulation strewn on the ground.
I walked across a field littered with debris toward a group of people standing by a heaping mound of rubble too big to be a home. A woman told me it was a school and that students had hid in hallways and bathrooms as the massive tornado struck.
I expected chaos as I approached the piles of bricks and twisted metal where Plaza Towers Elementary once stood but was surprised by how calm and orderly everything was.
Police and firefighters used bars to try to lift a large chunk of a wall up as they pulled children out one-by-one from underneath. Parents and neighbourhood residents stood in a line helping to pass the children from one set of arms to another out of harm's way.
A little boy was lifted from under the wall and rescuers were going to start passing him to the line of volunteers, but his dad was there. As the boy called out for him, they were reunited.
I spent about 30 minutes at Plaza Towers and photographed about a dozen children who were pulled from under the rubble.
I focused my lens on them. Some of the children looked dazed and others seemed terrified. But they were all alive.
I know students are among those who died in the tornado, but for a moment, there was hope in the devastation.
AP Photographer Sue Ogrocki has worked in Oklahoma for more than 10 years where she has covered about a dozen tornados.
May 20, 2013 / 11:08 pm
Zach Sobiech, the young cancer patient who wrote the hit song 'Clouds', has died. He was 18.
Here is the message from the Children's Cancer Fund, "With heavy hearts, we are saddened to share that Zach Sobiech passed away this morning. Zach was at home and at peace with those he loved most. Zach’s life ended just as he lived, embraced by the love of his family, friends, grace and music."
In the face of this earth shattering news, his response was to embrace every day with hope and joy. Zach surrounded himself with family and friends. And, he wrote songs for the ones he loved, which touched the hearts of millions worldwide. Writing goodbye letters weren’t Zach’s style, so he put his heart into song lyrics. He released two albums, performed alongside some of today’s best musicians and achieved a dream of helping raise money and awareness for osteosarcoma research.
Cancer may have taken Zach too soon, but he leaves a lasting legacy that most of us will never achieve. His message of love and hope delivered through infectious lyrics and memorable tunes have imprinted on the minds and hearts of millions around the world. Zach became a beacon of light and benevolence in a world that sometimes weighs too heavily. In turn, he received a flood of well-wishes that helped him, and his loved ones, smile through tremendous pain and worry.
His legacy will also help the children of tomorrow who learn that they have osteosarcoma, the type of cancer that took Zach’s life. He became the face of this rare disease and built tremendous awareness of the need for more research funding. Because of Zach, his family’s support, and the donations of thousands in his name, kids with osteosarcoma will have better outcomes in the future. This was a source of comfort to Zach in his last days, and will provide comfort to his family going forward.
We extend our deepest condolences to the Sobiech family – parents Rob and Laura, siblings Alli (Collin), Sam and Grace, along with Zach’s many friends, aunts and uncles, cousins, teachers, classmates and others who share in this tremendous loss.
We also want to acknowledge Zach’s friends and A Firm Handshake band mates, Sammy Brown and Reed Redmond, who dedicated their time and energy to helping Zach achieve his music dreams. Our thoughts are also with Zach’s constant companion, and love of his life, girlfriend Amy Adamle.
With Zach’s blessing, the Sobiech family requests that all memorials be directed to the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund in lieu of flowers to help carry on Zach’s mission to help kids with cancer."
Sobiech bravely battled osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, since his diagnosis at age 14. As the disease progressed, doctors had no more effective treatment options to offer him a cure, and Zach was told in May, 2012 that he likely had months to a year to live.
Several celebrities, and his family, created this version of 'Clouds'.
May 20, 2013 / 7:47 pm
The White House chief of staff and other senior presidential advisers knew in late April that an upcoming report was likely to find that employees of the U.S. tax agency had inappropriately targeted conservative political groups, but they didn't tell President Barack Obama.
The White House on Monday said advisers left Obama to learn the results from news reports. The White House defended that decision, with press secretary Jay Carney saying Obama was comfortable with the fact that "some matters are not appropriate to convey to him, and this is one of them."
The decision to keep the president in the dark about the Treasury Department report underscores the White House's cautious legal approach to controversies, as well as an apparent desire by top advisers to distance him from troubles threatening his administration.
"It is absolutely a cardinal rule, as we see it, that we do not intervene in ongoing investigations," Carney said.
Opposition Republicans have seized on the audit by a Treasury Department inspector general, which found that Internal Revenue Service employees singled out groups with names like "tea party" and "patriots" for special scrutiny that delayed their applications for tax exempt status â€” including during last year's presidential election.
Key words such as "tea party" and "patriots" are often used by conservative groups critical of Obama and his fellow Democrats.
Republicans are using the news to criticize Obama ahead of next year's elections for Congress. The controversy also has reignited the small-government tea party movement, whose influence in last year's election had waned compared to its muscular role in 2010.
Monday's disclosure expanded the known circle of top officials who were aware of the Treasury Department report beyond those identified earlier by the White House.
Carney said the White House counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, was first informed about the report on April 24, and she notified senior staff, including White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.
Carney said no one in the White House intervened in the audit. He also noted that the practice by the IRS workers ended in May 2012.
Republicans, however, are accusing Obama of being unaware of important happenings in the government he oversees.
"It seems to be the answer of the administration whenever they're caught doing something they shouldn't be doing is, 'I didn't know about it'," Republican Sen. John Cornyn told CBS News. "And it causes me to wonder whether they believe wilful ignorance is a defence when it's your job to know."
Obama advisers argue that the outcry from Republicans would be far worse had top advisers told the president about the IRS audit before it became public, thereby raising questions about White House interference.
May 20, 2013 / 5:08 pm
Sean Penn is urging the U.S. government to pressure Bolivia to free an American businessman jailed there since 2011.
The actor says international pressure is what Bolivian President Evo Morales needs to free Jacob Ostreicher of New York.
Ostreicher was granted house arrest in December after being jailed 18 months without being charged with any crime. He was arrested in a money laundering case in June 2011 while he was trying to salvage a rice-growing venture.
Penn spoke Monday before a congressional committee looking at Ostreicher's case.
Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey says Ostreicher is the victim of a network of people in government who are extorting him and who took away his company.
May 20, 2013 / 4:52 pm
The disappearances of a British Columbia man and a U.S. man in the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta has their families frantically searching for information in what they believe could be a kidnapping.
Diego Hernandez, a 22-year-old Canadian martial arts instructor, and his friend and business partner Craig Silva vanished on May 8, just days after Hernandez put together a mixed martial arts sporting event in the city.
The pair was last seen in Silva's truck, a black 2003 Chevy Trailblazer, which has since been recovered by Mexican authorities.
Reached in Puerto Vallarta, Hernandez's mother, Melissa Canez, said her son and Silva had been planning to withdraw money from Silva's account to pay for some of the event's expenses. Soon after they obtained the money, they dropped off Silva's girlfriend at a local university and intended to pick her up after class, she said.
Canez said she suspected the two men were kidnapped when she was told the next day that they did not return to pick up Silva's girlfriend.
"They're both martial arts instructors, they're disciplined individuals," she told The Canadian Press in a phone interview on Monday.
"As soon as she said they hadn't come back and they didn't answer their phones, for me, I knew somebody had my son against his will because he would not do that. He wouldn't just take off."
The online newspaper Noticias PV says Puerto Vallarta's director of public safety, Silvestre Chavez, didn't learn of the men's disappearance until five days later and has launched an investigation.
Canez said her son's girlfriend filed a missing persons report within 48 hours.
Hernandez's girlfriend also received a call from someone who claimed he saw the two men being arrested by municipal police on the same day they went missing, Canez said.
"Of course that changed everything because then it's like, what are you talking about?" she said.
Since the missing reports have been filed, the local authorities and the Canadian consular have been of little help, Canez said.
She said she has seen surveillance footage of an unknown man withdrawing money at a bank using Silva's card.
There is also apparently another surveillance video that shows Hernandez withdrawing cash at an ATM while being flanked by two masked people, she said. One of the men's bank card was also used at a convenience store, she added.
Hernandez lived in Coquitlam, B.C. before moving to Puerto Vallarta two years ago.
The mixed martial arts event that he put on earlier this month was in collaboration with another business partner who was mostly in charge of the finances.
According to Canez, Hernandez was approached a few days before the event by somebody who wanted a percentage of the earnings. Her son refused, Canez said.
"I was terrified," she said. "I said to him, 'You can't say no to those people...I think you should leave, like get on the plane right now.'"
Canez said the event was extravagant and televised, and Hernandez and his business partner were having trouble paying some of the expenses.
As a result, Silva, whom Hernandez has known for over a year, became a partner as well and offered to put up what Canez said was a substantial amount of money to cover the outstanding expenses.
All of those events have led Canez to suspect that someone close to Hernandez and Silva has something to do with their disappearance.
"I think that somebody tipped these people off that Diego and Craig were going to have a substantial amount of cash on them that day, I think they were followed," she said.
"They know Diego doesn't have money, and his family doesn't have money...but in Craig's case, those people who were close knew that he had some financial backing because how could he just come up with that money to invest overnight and become part of this whole thing?"
Canez said she hasn't received any ransom calls, but she is not sure whether the same can be said of Silva's family. She said she has been in touch with them, but they prefer to keep their distance.
"We want Diego and Craig home alive and we are not looking for anyone to be brought to justice, nor will we do any further investigating," Canez said. "We just want them to be given back to us safe and sound."
Puerto Vallarta police said no information would be given on the case at this time.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada confirmed that consular officials are providing services to the family of a Canadian citizen reported missing in Mexico, and that they are in contact with local authorities.
A Facebook group has been set up to collect tips about the men's whereabouts. Word of the case has also spread through social media, with many sharing photos of the men on Twitter.
May 20, 2013 / 3:14 pm
United Airlines put its 787 back in the air on Monday, with both the airline and Boeing hoping to put the plane's four-month grounding behind them.
The flight from Houston to Chicago was just the kind of 787 flight that airlines are hoping for: uneventful.
Smouldering batteries on two 787s owned by other airlines prompted authorities to ground the planes in January. The failure of Boeing's newest, flashiest and most important plane embarrassed the company and its customers.
Both United CEO Jeff Smisek and Boeing CEO Jim McNerney were on board Monday's flight, and United promoted the plane's return to service.
Said Smisek, "I'll tell you, Jim, it was a fairly expensive piece of sculpture to have on the ground so we're really delighted to have it up and flying."
United is the only U.S. airline currently flying the 787.
The airline, based in Chicago, said it will use 787s on shorter domestic flights before resuming international flying June 10 with new Denver-to-Tokyo service as well as temporary Houston-to-London flights. It's adding flights to Tokyo, Shanghai, and Lagos, Nigeria, in August.
Those long international flights are the main reason the 787 exists. Its medium size and fuel efficiency are a good fit for long routes. Starting with shorter domestic flights "will give us a period to ramp up full 787 operations," United spokeswoman Christen David said.
Four of its six 787s have been fixed, and United said the other two will get the battery modification in coming days.
Airlines including Japan Airlines and South America's LATAM Airlines Group, said profit took a hit because of the grounding. LATAM said it still had to make payments on the plane and pay for crews and maintenance. It expects to resume flying soon.
United was forced to delay planned international flights, and the grounding reduced first-quarter earnings by $11 million.
The two battery incidents in January included an emergency landing of one plane, and a fire on another. Federal authorities lifted the grounding order on April 19 but it has taken Boeing and the airlines a few more weeks to fix most of them.
The incidents never caused any serious injuries. But the January grounding embarrassed Boeing and disrupted schedules at the eight airlines that were flying the planes. The company had delivered 50 of the planes worldwide.
The 787 uses more electricity than any other jet. And it makes more use of lithium-ion batteries than other jets to provide power for things like flight controls and a backup generator when its engines are shut down. Each 787 has two of the batteries.
Boeing Co. never did figure out the root cause of the battery incidents. Instead, it redesigned the battery and its charger. The idea was to eliminate all of the possible causes, 787 chief engineer Mike Sinnett said in an online chat on Thursday where he and a Boeing test pilot took questions about the plane.
The changes include more heat insulation between each cell and charging the battery to a lower maximum voltage.
Ethiopian Airlines resumed flying 787s on April 27, and Air India and Qatar Airways have also restarted flights. All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines have both said they expect to restart 787 flights on June 1.
Boeing said that as of Sunday, 45 planes have gotten the battery fix out of 50 that were in service when they were grounded. It said it will finish the modifications by the end of May.
Boeing never stopped making 787s, but deliveries were halted. They resumed last week, and Boeing has since delivered two planes, both with the new battery system.
May 20, 2013 / 2:42 pm
An accounting executive for AEG Live LLC testified on Monday that the company spent $24 million producing Michael Jackson's ill-fated "This Is It" concerts.
Julie Hollander, a vice-president and controller of event operations for AEG Live, testified during the trial of a lawsuit filed by Jackson's mother against AEG claiming the company was negligent in hiring the doctor later convicted in the death of the pop star.
The tally involved expenses compiled through October 2009, roughly three months after the singer's death, Hollander said.
Budget documents shown in court indicated the company made no payments to the doctor, Conrad Murray.
AEG budgeted $150,000 a month for Murray's treatment of Jackson, but the singer died of an anesthetic overdose before he signed Murray's agreement.
Hollander said Murray's contract was the only one she had ever seen in which an artist had to approve a contract for services on a tour. She believed Jackson's signature was required because of the personal nature of the doctor's services.
In total, Murray was projected to receive $1.5 million in payments over the first few months of the "This Is It" tour, which was slated for 50 shows at London's 02 Arena.
Attorneys for Jackson's mother are trying to prove that AEG hired Murray and missed numerous red flags about the pop singer's health before his death.
AEG denies it hired Murray and says it bears no liability for Jackson's death.
Hollander also testified that Jackson was responsible for 95 per cent of production expenses if his comeback shows were cancelled. Budget documents indicated the production was more than $2 million over budget.
Hollander was the first AEG executive to testify in the lawsuit. The company's general counsel Shawn Trell began testifying on Monday.
Plaintiff's attorney Brian Panish questioned Trell about a July letter sent to Jackson's estate asking for more than $30 million in reimbursement, including $300,000 for Murray's services.
Trell said it was a mistake to include Murray's payments as production costs.
May 20, 2013 / 2:30 pm
Authorities say an elementary school in an Oklahoma City suburb took a direct hit from a mile- (1.6 kilometre) wide tornado.
Gary Knight with the Oklahoma City Police Department says there is no word of injuries from the elementary school.
Knight says the school suffered "extensive damage" on Monday afternoon.
Neighbourhoods in Moore, Oklahoma, are flattened and buildings are on fire. Television footage on Monday afternoon showed homes and buildings that had been reduced to rubble in the city south of Oklahoma City.
Footage also showed vehicles littering roadways south and southwest of Oklahoma City.
There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The suburb of Moore was hit hard by a tornado in 1999. The storm had the highest winds ever recorded near the earth's surface.
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