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PERTH, Australia (AP) — Search planes scoured a remote patch of the Indian Ocean but came back empty-handed Friday after a 10-hour mission looking for any sign of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, another disappointing day in one of the world's biggest aviation mysteries.

Australian officials pledged to continue the search for two large objects spotted by a satellite earlier this week, which had raised hopes that the two-week hunt for the Boeing 777 that disappeared March 8 with 239 people on board was nearing a breakthrough.

But Australia's acting prime minister, Warren Truss, tamped down expectations.

"Something that was floating on the sea that long ago may no longer be floating — it may have slipped to the bottom," he said. "It's also certain that any debris or other material would have moved a significant distance over that time, potentially hundreds of kilometers."

In Kuala Lumpur, where the plane took off for Beijing, the country's defense minister thanked more than two dozen countries involved in the search that is stretching from Kazakhstan in Central Asia to the southern Indian Ocean, and said the focus remains on finding the airplane.

"This going to be a long haul," Hishammuddin Hussein told a news conference.

The search area indicated by the satellite images — some 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth — is so remote it takes aircraft four hours to fly there and four hours back, leaving them with only enough fuel to search for about two hours.

On Friday, five planes, including three P-3 Orions, made the trip. While search conditions had improved from Thursday, with much better visibility, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said there were no sightings of plane debris.

Two Chinese aircraft are expected to arrive in Perth on Saturday to join the search, and two Japanese aircraft will be arriving Sunday, Truss said. A small flotilla of ships coming to Australia from China was still several days away.

"We are doing all that we can, devoting all the resources we can and we will not give up until all of the options have been exhausted," said Truss, who is acting prime minister while Tony Abbott is in Papua New Guinea.

Experts say it is impossible to tell if the grainy satellite images of the two objects — one 24 meters (almost 80 feet) long and the other measuring 5 meters (15 feet) — were debris from the plane. But officials have called this the best lead so far in the search that began March 8 after the plane vanished over the Gulf of Thailand on an overnight flight to Beijing.

For relatives of the people aboard the plane — 154 of the 227 passengers are Chinese — hope was slipping away, said Nan Jinyan, sister-in-law of passenger Yan Ling.

"I'm psychologically prepared for the worst and I know the chances of them coming back alive are extremely small," said Nan, one of dozens of relatives gathered at a Beijing hotel awaiting any word about their loved ones.

Abbott spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he described as "devastated."

"It's about the most inaccessible spot that you could imagine on the face of the Earth, but if there is anything down there we will find it. We owe it to the families of those people to do no less," Abbott said.

The Norwegian cargo vessel Hoegh St. Petersburg is also in the area helping with the search. The ship, which transports cars, was on its way from South Africa to Australia.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said another commercial ship was also in the area and an Australian navy vessel was en route, and AMSA officials also were checking to see if there was any new satellite imagery that could provide searchers with more information.

Pieces of an aircraft have been found floating for days after a crash into the ocean. Peter Marosszeky, an aviation expert at the University of New South Wales, said the plane's wing could remain buoyant for weeks if the fuel tanks inside were empty and had not filled up with water.

Other experts said that if the aircraft breaks into pieces, normally only items such as seats and luggage would remain floating.

"We seldom see big metal (pieces) floating. You need a lot of (buoyant) material underneath the metal to keep it up," said Lau Kin-tak, an expert in aircraft maintenance and accidents at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

The anguished relatives of passengers met Friday with Malaysian officials at the Beijing hotel. Attendees said they had a two-hour briefing about the search but that nothing new was said.

Wang Zhen, son of missing artist Wang Linshi, said there were questions about why Malaysian authorities had provided so much seemingly contradictory information.

Wang said he still has hopes his father can be found alive and is praying that the satellite sightings turn out to be false. He said he and other relatives are suspicious about what they are being told by the Malaysian side, but are at a loss as to what to do next.

"We feel they're hiding something from us," said Wang, who is filling his days attending briefings and watching the news for updates.

Malaysian authorities have not ruled out any possible explanation for what happened to the jet, but have said the evidence so far suggests it was deliberately turned back across Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca, with its communications systems disabled. They are unsure what happened next.

Police are considering the possibilities of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or anyone else on board.

___

Gelineau reported from Sydney, Australia. Associated Press writers Todd Pitman and Scott McDonald in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand; Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong; and Christopher Bodeen and Isolda Morillo in Beijing contributed to this report.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- The Arkansas Supreme Court tossed out a $1.2 billion judgment against Johnson & Johnson on Thursday, reversing a lower court verdict that found the drug maker engaged in fraudulent tactics when marketing the antipsychotic drug Risperdal.

The high court ruled the state's Medicaid fraud law, which formed the basis of Arkansas' lawsuit, regulates health care facilities and that drug manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceutical Inc., don't fall under its scope.

The state alleged that the companies didn't properly communicate Risperdal's risks and marketed it for off-label use, calling the practices fraudulent.

Johnson & Johnson said there was no fraud and Arkansas' Medicaid program wasn't harmed.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said Thursday that he believes the Legislature intended for the Medicaid fraud law to allow lawsuits like the one against Johnson & Johnson.

"I am disappointed that the Court viewed the law differently. Nevertheless, I will keep working to protect consumers against fraud and the kinds of irresponsible and greedy actions shown by Johnson & Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals in their marketing of the drug Risperdal," McDaniel said in a statement released by his office.

Johnson & Johnson issued a statement that included a defense of how Risperdal is used.

"We are pleased that the Arkansas Supreme Court has ruled in our favor, reversing and dismissing the state's claims brought under the Medicaid Fraud False Claims Act, and has also reversed the Deceptive Trade Practices Act claim, remanding it to the court below.

"Janssen remains strongly committed to ethical business practices. Risperdal continues to help patients around the world who suffer from the debilitating effects of schizophrenia and bipolar mania," the companies said in the release.

McDaniel's office said it can't refile the major component of the lawsuit by alleging the companies broke some other law, but it intends to pursue a lesser aspect of it that the state Supreme Court sent back to the lower court. That part of the lawsuit, for which the state was awarded $11 million, claimed that the companies broke the state's deceptive trade practices law.

In a separate ruling, the justices threw out $181 million in fees and costs awarded to the state. Johnson & Johnson argued, among other things, that the award was premature. The high court agreed and sent the fee issue back to Fox's court.

Risperdal and similar antipsychotic drugs have been linked to increased risk of strokes and death in elderly patients, along with seizures, weight gain and diabetes.

Risperdal was introduced in 1994 as a "second-generation" antipsychotic drug - and it earned Johnson & Johnson billions of dollars in sales before generic versions became available. The drug is used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and irritability in autism patients.

An Arkansas jury found the New Jersey-based companies liable in 2012. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox then ordered the companies to pay $5,000 for each of the 240,000 Risperdal prescriptions for which Arkansas' Medicaid program paid during a 3 1/2-year span.

The lawsuit accused the companies of deceptive trade practices and Medicaid fraud and sought repayment for millions paid out by the state's Medicaid program for unnecessary prescriptions. The original lawsuit identified more than 597,000 prescriptions over a 13-year period, but that number was whittled down after challenges from the drug companies during pretrial proceedings.

Fox also fined the companies $2,500 for each of the more than 4,500 letters that Janssen sent to Arkansas doctors that the state said downplayed Risperdal's side effects. That's where the $11 million award was made under the state deceptive trade practices law.

In a separate action brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, Johnson & Johnson agreed in November to pay more than $2.2 billion to federal and state governments and in penalties to resolve criminal and civil allegations that the company promoted powerful psychiatric drugs, including Risperdal, for unapproved uses in children, seniors and disabled patients.

The agreement was the third-largest settlement with a drug maker in U.S. history.

Johnson & Johnson and Janssen are also awaiting a ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court, where the companies have an appeal pending of a $327 million judgment in a similar case. A $330 million verdict against both companies in Louisiana was overturned in January.

---

Follow Chuck Bartels on Twitter at HTTPS://TWITTER.COM/CBARTELSLIT

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

DROUGHT AND MODERATE FLOODING PREDICTED FOR SPRING

Thursday, 20 March 2014 11:15 Published in National News

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- On the first day of spring, there's some bad news for the weather-weary nation.

Dry conditions that have gripped California and the Southwest will continue with little relief. Government forecasters say if the drought persists, it'll likely lead to a busy wildfire season.

Much of the country remains in a deep freeze, delaying the risk of spring flooding into April in the upper Midwest to New England.

While major flooding is not expected, experts say there's a moderate risk of flooding in the southern Great Lakes region because of above-average snowpack.

Below-normal temperatures are expected this spring across the northern U.S. while it's likely to be warmer than usual along the West Coast and across the southern portion of the country.

The federal government released its annual spring outlook Thursday.

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY andTERMS OF USE.

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