Archive for September, 2019

Bodies removed from float plane wreckage on Sunday

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

When Russell Frank saw the float plane nosedive into the water straight ahead of him on Saturday, he knew he had to do something.

Frank, who was in his water taxi carrying his son and four other passengers from Ahousaht to Tofino off the west coast of Vancouver Island, immediately headed for the four-seater Atleo River Air Cessna. The single-engine plane was submerged except for its pontoons and its tail was snapped almost completely off. A sheen of oil sat on the waters of Millar Channel.

The group tied the plane to the stern of Frankís boat, which held it afloat for a few minutes. Then the weight of the craft began to pull his engine underwater.

"I asked a guy that was travelling with me to untie it and move it to the bow," said Frank, a 45-year-old lifelong resident of the remote first nations community of Ahousaht. "But after we untied it, it just shot straight to the bottom."

What Frank didn’t know at the time was that the sinking plane carried his nephew, Hunter Sam, 28; Hunter’s sister Katrina Sam-English, 22; their cousin and Frankís niece Samantha Mattersdorfer, 24; and Frank’s friend and pilot, Damon York, 33, who all died in the crash.

Sam was a construction worker with three young children.

Sam-English was married with two small children, while Mattersdorfer was the mother of a young girl. According to Atleo River Air, York was an experienced pilot and a Tofino resident.

On Sunday, first nations elders from Ahousaht conducted a prayer ceremony on board a police boat as RCMP divers pulled the remains of the Cessnaís pilot and three passengers from the wreckage, shortly after extensive searches resulted in its discovery.

When the plane went down, Frank and his passengers were just off Yates Point, northwest of Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Had his passengers not been late to catch his water taxi, the plane might have come down right on top of them, Frank said.

"My passengers were six minutes late and we were six minutes getting to the crash site," said Frank. "Had we been on time, the plane would have landed right in the bow of my boat because it was dead centre off the bow."

The plane remained submerged late Sunday in approximately 15 metres of water.

"They’re waiting now to decide what is the next step," said Bill Yearwood, lead investigator with the federal Transportation Safety Board. "It’s not an easy or quick process; you’ve got to be careful when you pull it up.

"They’re going to photograph it under water for me so we have some good information if it gets damaged on recovery."

The plane took off from Tofino around noon on Saturday and was on its way to Ahousaht harbour, a 12-minute flight.

The community of Ahousaht — accessible only by boat or specially chartered plane — is the home of Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who was there on Sunday to join his community in mourning.

"Our whole community is deeply saddened by this unexpected tragedy," Atleo wrote in an e-mail Sunday. "To the family and friends who are in mourning, please accept the heartfelt sympathies of the Assembly of First Nations Staff and Executive. As you grieve know that our hearts and prayers are with you. We wish you courage and strength as you honour the memory of your loved ones."

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Are there major safety problems with float planes? Read Larry Pynn’s investigative series: "Broken Wings."


For more photos, click here.


Atleo River Air victims

BY Andrea Woo

Hunter Sam, 28

Hunter Sam was a construction worker and the father of three young children: Eight-month-old Aysiah, with fiance Melissa Schram; Janae, 6; and Jeremy, 5. He had three siblings, including Katrina Sam-English, who perished alongside him in the crash.

Sam was a mixed martial arts fan and looked forward to UFC 115 at GM Place in June. One of his last Facebook postings, from Friday, read, "countdown to ufc 115, cant wait it’s going to b a good one ICEMAN … ACE ….GRIFFIN."

Sam also enjoyed watching basketball and playing poker and video games.

Schram, whom Sam proposed to just three months ago, poured her heart out on her own Facebook page Sunday: &quot;Hunter, How am I gonna do all this without you! </3 I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!&quot; On Saturday, she wrote that she would love Sam forever and that his death was still not real to her.

Katrina Sam-English, 22

Katrina Sam-English, Hunter Sam’s sister, was the mother of two young children, M’aliyah, 5, and Alan, 3. She married husband Alan English in July 2009 in Ahousaht after dating him for six years.

Sam-English and her mother, Ruth Sam, are listed on the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort’s website as housekeepers. Her father, and Ruth’s husband, Qaamina Sam, is listed as a skipper and guide at the Tofino resort.

Samantha Mattersdorfer, 24

Samantha Mattersdorfer was Hunter Sam and Katrina Sam-English’s cousin. She enjoyed golfing and going for walks and was a fan of the Vancouver Canucks. A May 23 Facebook status update indicated she was heading to Tofino that day.

Damon York, 33 (pilot)

Damon York, of Tofino, worked as a mechanic and engineer before becoming a pilot.

In 2008, York and his sister, Lindsey, took first place in the 30-kilometre short-course mixed pairs category at the Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race at Shawnigan Lake, which included mountain biking, trail running and rappelling off a cliff.

York’s family erected a Facebook page in his memory Sunday, noting he died doing what he loved.

&quot;My heart is broken for you all and so sharing in your loss,&quot; Dorena Rosenburg wrote. &quot;So glad to have met him and he was such an awesome person.&quot;

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With files from Todd Coyne

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Rescuers dig after Central American storm kills 96

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

GUATEMALA CITY – Rescue crews battled to reach rain-sodden rural areas of Central America on Monday after Tropical Storm Agatha’s torrential rain burst riverbanks and triggered mudslides, killing at least 96 people.

The first named storm of the 2010 Pacific hurricane season, Agatha slammed into Guatemala on Saturday, dumping more than three feet (one metre) of rain in the mountainous west of the country and in neighboring El Salvador, and sparking worries about damage to the coffee crop in both countries.

Several dozen people were still reported missing in Guatemala on Monday and as the rain abated, hundreds of families searched for loved ones and belongings.

&quot;I’ve lost everything but my two dogs,&quot; said a man sitting outside the ruins of his wooden house just outside Guatemala City. Another man said he saw his wife and two daughters swept away as they tried to cross a river for safety.

More than 80,000 people were evacuated over the weekend as the storm buried homes under mud, swept away a highway bridge near Guatemala City and opened up sinkholes in the capital.

&quot;It’s been difficult to reach people, but we today we should be able to get to these isolated places,&quot; said David de Leon, a spokesman for Guatemala’s emergency services.

President Alvaro Colom said on Sunday that at least 83 people had died in Guatemala, and officials said more victims would likely be found. Nine people were killed in El Salvador and four in Honduras, including a woman who was electrocuted as she was helped from her flooded home.

Agatha dissipated as it crossed Guatemala but emergency workers warned residents to expect heavy rain for several more days and said further mudslides were possible.

There was concern over the condition of the coffee crop in Guatemala, the region’s biggest producer, and El Salvador where the worst of the rain fell in the main coffee-growing area.

Some coffee farms near Guatemala City have reported damage from an eruption last week of the Pacaya volcano, which spurted small rocks and ash, but Agatha felled telephone lines, making it hard to assess the extent of storm damage to the crop.

Gerardo de Leon, commercial manager of a group of 120 farms around the country, said intense humidity was likely to damage some crops. &quot;The humidity during and after the storm causes fungus in the plants. That’s the problem,&quot; he told Reuters.

Central America is vulnerable to heavy rains due to its mountainous terrain, while poor communications in rural areas complicates rescue efforts. Last November’s Hurricane Ida caused flooding and mudslides that killed at least 150 people as it moved through the region.

Guatemalan officials have warned the flooding from Agatha could be worsened by ash from Pacaya blocking drains.

Last Thursday’s eruption forced the closure of Guatemala City’s international airport. The airport has reopened for aid flights but will remain closed to commercial flights until Tuesday, aviation officials said.

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Pakistan restores Facebook, Internet restrictions remain

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan restored access to Facebook on Monday, nearly two weeks after closing the popular networking site in a storm of controversy about blasphemy, but still restricted hundreds of online links.

A contest organized by an anonymous Facebook user calling on people to draw the Prophet Mohammed to promote &quot;freedom of expression&quot; sparked a major blacklash and angry street protests in the conservative country of 170 million.

Islam strictly prohibits the depiction of any prophet as blasphemous and even moderate Muslims were deeply offended by the drawings that appeared on a Facebook page in response to the call for an &quot;Everyone Draw Mohammed Day&quot;.

A group of Islamic lawyers on May 19 petitioned a court in Pakistan’s cultural capital of Lahore, which ordered Facebook blocked until May 31.

The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) then banned popular video sharing website YouTube for a week and restricted access to 1,200 Internet links, including Wikipedia pages, citing &quot;growing sacrilegious&quot; content.

Justice Ejaz Chaudhry of the Lahore High Court on Monday ordered Facebook restored, but asked the government to develop a system to block access to &quot;blasphemous&quot; content online, as in Saudi Arabia.

&quot;Restore Facebook. We don’t want to block access to information,&quot; Chaudhry said.

&quot;It is the government’s job to take care of such things, which spark resentment among the people and bring them on to the streets. They should take steps to block any blasphemous content on the Internet,&quot; Chaudhry said.

The court adjourned until June 15 the petitions from the Islamic lawyers.

Although the caricatures were universally condemned in Pakistan, the Internet-literate elite has criticized the blanket ban on websites in a country with an estimated 2.5 million Facebook users.

Facebook expressed disappointment at being blocked and the offending page has disappeared from the social networking service.

But Mudassir Hussain, an official from the information technology ministry, told the court that all links to &quot;blasphemous&quot; content on the Internet would remain blocked in Pakistan.

Access to Facebook was being restored in the evening, around nine hours after written instructions were received, said a spokesman for the Internet Service Providers’ Association of Pakistan.

&quot;My technical staff say that it is open now,&quot; Wahaj-ul-Siraj told AFP.

PTA spokesman Khurram Mehran said: &quot;We issued instructions to Internet service providers to unblock Facebook. However pages containing blasphemous content will remained blocked.&quot;

Pakistan last week restored access to YouTube – which together with Facebook accounts for up to 25 per cent of Internet traffic in Pakistan – but 1,200 web pages of &quot;sacrilegious&quot; content have been blocked.

Islamic activists and students have taken to the streets, shouting &quot;Death to Facebook&quot; and burned U.S. flags, venting anger over &quot;Everyone Draw Mohammed Day.&quot;

Pakistan also briefly banned YouTube in February 2008 in a similar protest against &quot;blasphemous&quot; cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

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Judge set to release verdict on Brian Mulroney’s conduct

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

OTTAWA – Justice Jeffrey Oliphant is expected to deliver his opinion Monday on whether Brian Mulroney’s once-secret cash dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber live up to the “highest standard of conduct” the former prime minister championed for high office holders when he was in power.

The Manitoba judge will release his much-anticipated report at 1 p.m. ET — the climax of a $16-million public inquiry into the appropriateness of the former prime minister’s commercial relationship with the German-Canadian lobbyist.

Justice Oliphant has made clear he would weigh Mr. Mulroney’s behaviour against the ethical standards he espoused as prime minister. In particular, he cited a line in Mr. Mulroney’s 1988 “guidance to ministers” that said they should act in a “manner so scrupulous that it will bear the closest possible scrutiny.”

In a statement to the inquiry before the public hearings began, Justice Oliphant said: “A finding of inappropriateness will be made only if there is credible evidence that Mr. Mulroney acted in a manner that falls short of conduct, that, objectively, is so scrupulous that it can bear the closest possible scrutiny.”

The price tag so far for the inquiry includes an estimated $14-million for the commission itself, and at least $1.8-million that Mr. Mulroney’s lawyers have already collected from the government.

In a sign Prime Minister Stephen Harper is keen to move past the inquiry into the behaviour of a former Conservative prime minister, he agreed to make the report public three hours after it is delivered to the government.

The two major players in the story will not be in Ottawa.

Mr. Mulroney, who has the most at stake, has decided to keep a long-standing speaking commitment in Toronto. Schreiber is now behind bars in Germany, serving an eight-year prison term for tax evasion.

Their lawyers will, however, be allowed to read the report in a lockup from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., so they can brief their clients as soon as the report is publicly released — with a verbal statement by Justice Oliphant — at the government conference centre.

Mr. Harper, who ordered the inquiry, asked Justice Oliphant to investigate the appropriateness of Mr. Mulroney’s dealings with Schreiber before and after he resigned as prime minister on June 25, 1993.

At the heart of the inquiry were the three cash payments of at least $225,000 that Mr. Mulroney says he took from Schreiber in exchange for lobbying internationally on behalf of a German-designed, light-armoured vehicle that Schreiber wanted built in Canada for export. He acknowledged he got the first of three cash-stuffed envelopes at the end of August when he was still an MP.

Schreiber said he paid Mr. Mulroney $300,000 cash to lobby domestically for the plan, known as the Bear Head project.

Justice Oliphant had no mandate to find criminal or civil wrongdoing. Nor did he have a mandate to revisit allegations of kickbacks that swirled around Schreiber, Mr. Mulroney and others about Air Canada’s $1.8-billion purchase of Airbus planes in 1988.

Mr. Mulroney has called accepting the cash payments a “serious error in judgment.” But he has insisted he did nothing illegal and no ethics guides were violated.

SIDEBAR: Here are some of the key questions Justice Oliphant was asked to answer:

“¢Â Where and when did Mr. Mulroney and Schreiber reach their agreement?

“¢ Was there an agreement to work for Schreiber reached while Mr. Mulroney was still prime minister, or an MP, that would have violated limitation periods prescribed by the 1985 ethics code?

“¢ What was the source of the funds for Schreiber’s payments to Mr. Mulroney?

“¢ What happened to a cash payment of at least $75,000 that Mr. Mulroney admits he got in New York in December 1994?

“¢ Were the business and financial dealings appropriate considering Mr. Mulroney’s position?

“¢ Was there appropriate disclosure and reporting of the business dealings and payments?

“¢ Are additional ethical guides needed to cover the activities of politicians as they transition out of elected office or after they leave?

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Video of N.S. high school skirmish goes viral

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

A skirmish between a junior high school principal and one of his students is yet again playing out publicly after a video of the incident was posted online.

Ken Fells, a 15-year employee of the Halifax Regional School Board, was removed from his post at Graham Creighton Junior High School in Cherry Brook, N.S., after an altercation with a student on March 3.

The student allegedly took &quot;inappropriate&quot; photos of a female student on his cellphone, then refused to turn it over to teachers.

When Mr. Fells was called in to intervene, the student again refused to comply and attempted to leave.

The principal forcibly stopped him.

Residents in the tiny community, located just northeast of Halifax, had rallied around the principal when news of the incident leaked out.

The minute-long video — footage from the school’s surveillance camera — was posted yesterday by Frank Magazine.

The school board had reportedly refused to release the footage.

It shows Mr. Fells blocking the student with his arm at the side of a hallway — with the student reacting by pushing back.

The student then falls to the ground and Mr. Fells grabs him in a bearlike hug from behind, dragging him with some effort down the hall to the office.

The school board has remained mum on the incident, calling it a &quot;personnel matter,&quot; but details have trickled out through parents and students.

Last week, the board voted to shuffle the veteran educator out of his principal’s job, but did not fire him.

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