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Archive for Thursday, September 16, 2004

Briefly

September 16, 2004

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Los Angeles

FAA assesses blame for air-traffic shutdown

Failure to perform a routine maintenance check caused the shutdown of an air-traffic communications system serving a large swath of the West, resulting in several close calls in the skies, the FAA and a union official said Wednesday.

In at least five cases, aircraft in the sky passed dangerously close to each other Tuesday night after the shutdown knocked out radio contact between pilots and air-traffic controllers, said Hamid Ghaffari, local president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Assn.

In a statement, the FAA also said radio contact failed but radar coverage remained fully operational and aircraft were safely handed off to other air-traffic control facilities.

The center hit by the blackout controls airspace for a vast region that encompasses California, Arizona, Nevada and parts of Utah. The shutdown caused a ripple effect throughout the country as planes bound for the Los Angeles region were held on the ground for about three hours.

New Mexico

5 Los Alamos workers fired for security lapses

Five employees at Los Alamos National Laboratory lost their jobs Wednesday after an investigation into a string of safety and security lapses.

Seven others received lesser punishments such as written reprimands, salary reductions, demotions or unpaid leave.

A total of 23 workers were placed on leave at the New Mexico lab in July while being investigated for possible involvement with two missing top-secret computer disks, and an unrelated safety incident where a student intern was inadvertently hit in the eye with a laser.

Of the five who lost their jobs -- four were fired and a fifth will resign instead of being fired -- three were involved with the lost disks and two with the laser incident.

Colorado

Great Sand Dunes becomes national park

An enormous sea of shifting sand, an American Sahara deposited at the base of the Rocky Mountains by 12,000 years of southwesterly winds, became the nation's newest national park this week as Interior Secretary Gail Norton guaranteed permanent protection for the unique geological phenomenon.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, just north of the Colorado-New Mexico border, becomes the 58th national park. It is a rare park because the Great Sand Dunes have no hiking trails; any designated trail would blow away with the next wind.

Geologists say the Great Sand Dunes began forming at the end of the last ice age, 12 millennia ago. The headwaters of the Rio Grande carried sand down the San Juan Mountains to the open bowl of the San Luis Valley. The prevailing southwesterly winds, blowing at an average of 35 mph, carried the sand about 60 miles -- until it ran into a natural trap, the imposing wall of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

New Jersey

Parents of four welcome six more

Eric and Elizabeth Hayes, already the parents of two sets of twins, wanted one more baby.

The couple got their wish -- and more -- this week when Elizabeth delivered New Jersey's only sextuplets. The Hayes brood grew to 10 children in less than three minutes Tuesday at Monmouth Medical Center in Hackensack, hospital officials announced at a news conference Wednesday.

A team of 44 delivered the babies by Caesarean section at 1:07 a.m. Four of the babies weighed more than 4 pounds, well above average for a multiple birth, and the pregnancy lasted 32 weeks, much longer than is typical in such cases.

Most of the babies needed only minimal breathing assistance following the birth.

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