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PILOTS OFTEN HEAD TO WRONG AIRPORTS, REPORTS SHOW

Monday, 10 February 2014 10:55 Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — Do you know the way to San Jose? Quite a few airline pilots apparently don't.

On at least 150 flights, including one involving a Southwest Airlines jet last month in Missouri and a jumbo cargo plane last fall in Kansas, U.S. commercial air carriers have either landed at the wrong airport or started to land and realized their mistake in time, according to a search by The Associated Press of government safety databases and media reports since the early 1990s.

A particular trouble spot is San Jose, Calif. The list of landing mistakes includes six reports of pilots preparing to land at Moffett Field, a joint civilian-military airport, when they meant to go to Mineta San Jose International Airport, about 10 miles to the southeast. The airports are south of San Francisco in California's Silicon Valley.

"This event occurs several times every winter in bad weather when we work on Runway 12," a San Jose airport tower controller said in a November 2012 report describing how an airliner headed for Moffett after being cleared to land at San Jose. A controller at a different facility who noticed the impending landing on radar warned his colleagues with a telephone hotline that piped his voice directly into the San Jose tower's loudspeakers. The plane was waved off in time.

In nearly all the incidents, the pilots were cleared by controllers to guide the plane based on what they could see rather than relying on automation. Many incidents occur at night, with pilots reporting they were attracted by the runway lights of the first airport they saw during descent. Some pilots said they disregarded navigation equipment that showed their planes slightly off course because the information didn't match what they were seeing out their windows — a runway straight ahead.

"You've got these runway lights, and you are looking at them, and they're saying: 'Come to me, come to me. I will let you land.' They're like the sirens of the ocean," said Michael Barr, a former Air Force pilot who teaches aviation safety at the University of Southern California.

Using NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System, along with news accounts and reports sent to other federal agencies, the AP tallied 35 landings and 115 approaches or aborted landing attempts at wrong airports by commercial passenger and cargo planes over more than two decades.

The tally doesn't include every event. Many aren't disclosed to the media, and reports to the NASA database are voluntary. The Federal Aviation Administration investigates wrong airport landings and many near-landings, but those reports aren't publicly available. FAA officials turned down a request by The Associated Press for access to those records, saying some may include information on possible violations of safety regulations by pilots and might be used in an enforcement action.

NASA, on the other hand, scrubs its reports of identifying information to protect confidentiality, including names of pilots, controllers and airlines. While the database is operated by the space agency, it is paid for by the FAA and its budget has been frozen since 1997, said database director Linda Connell. As a result, fewer incident reports are being entered even though the volume of reports has soared, she said.

The accounts that are available paint a picture of repeated close calls, especially in parts of the country where airports are situated close together with runways similarly angled, including Nashville and Smyrna in Tennessee, Tucson and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, and several airports in South Florida.

In a report filed last July, for example, an airline captain described how his MD-80 was lined up to land at what he thought was San Antonio International Airport when a rider in the cockpit's jump seat "shouted out that we were headed for Lackland Air Force Base." The first officer, who was flying the plane, quickly aborted the landing and circled around to line up for the correct airport. The captain later thanked the cockpit passenger and phoned the San Antonio tower. "They did not seem too concerned," he reported, "and said this happens rather frequently there."

Continental Airlines' regional carriers flying from Houston to Lake Charles Regional Airport on the Louisiana Gulf Coast have at least three times mistakenly landed at the smaller, nearby Southland Executive field. Both airports have runways painted with the numbers 15 and 33 to reflect their compass headings. Runways are angled based on prevailing winds.

The recent wrong airport landings by a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 in Missouri and an Atlas Air Boeing 747 freighter in Kansas have heightened safety concerns. The Southwest pilots stopped just short of a ravine at the end of the short runway in Hollister, Mo., when they meant to land on a runway twice as long at the nearby Branson airport. Of the 35 documented wrong landings, 23 occurred at airports with shorter runways. The runways were longer in three cases, they were the same length in two and the wrong airport wasn't identified or its runway length was unavailable in seven.

FAA officials emphasized that cases of wrong airport landings are rare. There are nearly 29,000 commercial aircraft flights daily in the U.S., but only eight wrong airport landings by U.S. carriers in the last decade, according to AP's tally. None has resulted in death or injury.

"The FAA reviews reported wrong-airport incidents to determine whether steps such as airfield lighting adjustments may reduce pilot confusion," the agency said in a statement.

But John Goglia, a former National Transportation Safety Board member and aviation safety expert, says the FAA and the NTSB should be concerned. Air crashes are nearly always the result of a string of safety lapses rather than a single mistake, he noted. Attempts to land at wrong airports represent "another step up the ladder toward a riskier operation," he said.

Runway condition is also a worry when a plane makes a mistaken approach. When an air traffic controller clears a plane to land on a specific runway, "you know you pretty much have a clear shot at a couple of miles of smooth concrete," said Rory Kay, a training captain at a major airline. "If you choose to land somewhere else, then all bets are off. There could be a bloody big hole in the middle of the runway. There could be a barrier across it. There could be vehicles working on it."

Another concern is that a plane attempting to land at the wrong airport could collide with a plane taking off from that airport. Several pilots who reported aborting wrong airport landings said they cross the airport's "centerline" — the path planes would follow during takeoff. A few reported receiving warnings of other planes nearby.

In some reports, pilots said they were saved from making a wrong airport landing by an alert controller. That was the case for an MD-80 captain who nearly landed his mid-sized airliner at Page Field, a small airport in Fort Myers, Fla., used mainly by private pilots, instead of the much larger Southwest Florida International Airport nearby. A controller caught the mistake in time and suggested the captain explain the detour by telling passengers the flight was "touring downtown" Fort Myers.

"I was pretty shaken as to what could have happened and was very glad to have an understanding, helpful (controller)," the captain said. "They (controllers) said there would be no problem with (the FAA) and that this was a common occurrence."

DOCUMENTS: JUDGMENTS RANDOM IN MILITARY SEX-CRIMES

Monday, 10 February 2014 10:54 Published in National News

TOKYO (AP) — At U.S. military bases in Japan, most service members found culpable in sex crimes in recent years did not go to prison, according to internal Department of Defense documents. Instead, in a review of hundreds of cases filed in America's largest overseas military installation, offenders were fined, demoted, restricted to their bases or removed from the military.

In about 30 cases, a letter of reprimand was the only punishment.

More than 1,000 records, obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act, describe hundreds of cases in graphic detail, painting a disturbing picture of how senior American officers prosecute and punish troops accused of sex crimes. The handling of allegations verged on the chaotic, with seemingly strong cases often reduced to lesser charges. In two rape cases, commanders overruled recommendations to court-martial and dropped the charges instead.

Even when military authorities agreed a crime had been committed, the suspect was unlikely to serve time. Of 244 service members whose punishments were detailed in the records, only a third of them were incarcerated.

The analysis of the reported sex crimes, filed between 2005 and early 2013, shows a pattern of random and inconsistent judgments:

—The Marines were far more likely than other branches to send offenders to prison, with 53 prison sentences out of 270 cases. By contrast, of the Navy's 203 cases, more than 70 were court-martialed or punished in some way. Only 15 were sentenced to time behind bars.

—The Air Force was the most lenient. Of 124 sex crimes, the only punishment for 21 offenders was a letter of reprimand.

—Victims increasingly declined to cooperate with investigators or recanted, a sign they may have been losing confidence in the system. In 2006, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which handles the Navy and Marine Corps, reported 13 such cases; in 2012, it was 28.

In two cases, both adjudicated by the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, the accusers said they were sexually abused after nights of heavy drinking, and both had some evidence to support their cases. One suspect was sentenced to six years in prison, but the other was confined to his base for 30 days instead of getting jail time.

Taken together, the cases illustrate how far military leaders have to go to reverse a spiraling number of sexual assault reports. The records also may give weight to members of Congress pushing to strip senior officers of their authority to decide whether serious crimes, including sexual assault cases, go to trial.

"How many more rapes do we have to endure to wait and see what reforms are needed?" asked Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., chair of the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee. She leads a vocal group of lawmakers from both political parties who argue that further reforms to the military's legal system are needed.

Air Force Col. Alan Metzler, deputy director of the Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said the department "has been very transparent that we do have a problem." He said a raft of changes in military law is creating a culture where victims trust that their allegations will be taken seriously and perpetrators will be punished.

The number of sexual assault cases taken to courts-martial has grown steadily — from 42 percent in 2009 to 68 percent in 2012, according to DOD figures. In 2012, of the 238 service members convicted, 74 percent served time.

That trend is not reflected in the Japan cases. Out of 473 sexual assault allegations within Navy and Marine Corps units, just 116, or 24 percent, ended up in courts-martial. In the Navy, one case in 2012 led to court-martial, compared to 13 in which commanders used non-judicial penalties instead.

The authority to decide how to prosecute serious criminal allegations would be taken away from senior officers under a bill crafted by Gillibrand that is expected to come before the Senate this week. The bill would place that responsibility with the trial counsel who has prosecutorial experience.

Senior U.S. military leaders oppose the plan.

"Taking the commander out of the loop never solved any problem," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the personnel subcommittee's top Republican. "It would dismantle the military justice system beyond sexual assaults. It would take commanders off the hook for their responsibility to fix this problem."

Gillibrand and her supporters argue that the cultural shift the military needs won't happen if commanders retain their current role in the legal system.

"Skippers have had this authority since the days of John Paul Jones and sexual assaults still occur," said Lory Manning, a retired Navy captain and senior fellow at the Women in the Military Project. "And this is where we are."

___

Lardner reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Leon Drouin-Keith in Bangkok and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

Mississippi beats Missouri 91-88

Sunday, 09 February 2014 00:02 Published in Sports
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi guard Marshall Henderson does not have the green light to take a 3-point shot. He has no light.
 
"I heard some guy behind me in the front row telling me to shoot it," said Henderson, who scored 29 points on eight 3-point shots in Saturday's 91-88 win over Missouri. "That's all I need to hear."
 
The Rebels (16-7, 7-3 Southeastern Conference) needed everything Henderson provided — 10 of 18 from the field, 8 of 15 from 3-point range and five assists — to record what Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy admitted, "a game we absolutely had to have. Marshall hits big shots."
 
Ole Miss enhanced their hopes for an NCAA Tournament bid with the win, with home dates remaining against Kentucky and Florida. The Rebels are 27-10 with a .729 winning percentage in SEC play since 2012, trailing only Florida for the league's best mark.
 
The Rebels remained alone in third place in the league standings and won for the third time in four meetings with Missouri (16-7, 4-6) over the past two seasons. The past two wins for the Rebels were turned on the game's final possession.
 
"Huge. Just huge. It's the only time we play them (Missouri) during the regular season," Henderson said. "They're a quality club with a high RPI and we needed it. I was able to get some good looks, but we had big games from everybody today."
 
Jarvis Summers and LaDarius White had 16 points apiece, while Anthony Perez added 11. The Rebels won the rebounding battle, 44-43, including game-high performances of 11 and 10 rebounds from Aaron Jones and Sebastian Saiz, respectively.
 
Despite trailing by as many as 17 points in the first half and 50-35 at halftime, Missouri put on a furious second half rally. Earnest Ross led the Tigers with 24 points, six rebounds and four assists and missed a 28-foot shot at the buzzer that could have forced overtime.
 
Ross was complemented by Jordan Clarkson with 23 points, Jabari Brown with 20 and Ryan Rossburg with 11, all in the second half.
 
"I thought the difference was our post players didn't compete well in the first half and their press bothered us," Missouri coach Frank Haith said.
 
"In the second half, we took better care of the basketball and our effort was there."
 
The Tigers pulled within two points on four occasions, but Henderson responded three times with a 3-point shot or an assist. Missouri's made another late surge to get within 79-78 on a 3-point shot by Brown with 3:18 left.
 
Ole Miss outscored Missouri 6-0 in the following minute, all by Summers, and built a seemingly insurmountable 91-83 lead with 19 seconds remaining. Missouri scrambled within 91-88 and forced a turnover with 0.9 remaining, setting up a final opportunity for Ross.
 
"There were times I felt like we were just blowing them out by the way we were shooting," Henderson said. "Then you'd look up and they were right there. Every game comes down to the wire for us. We embrace hard. We know it's going to be that way."
 
The loss was the third straight for the Tigers, who have lost consecutively to the top three SEC teams — Kentucky, Florida and Ole Miss. Despite the loss, Missouri remains a factor in the title chase with five of the next seven games at home.
 
Ole Miss shot 50 percent (29 of 58) from the field and 48.3 percent (14 of 29) from 3-point range. Missouri shot 47.5 percent (28 of 59) from the field and hit 11 3-point shots, led by Ross with five.

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