All survive crash of Mexican jetliner, some walk from wreck
By AMY GUTHRIE
Wednesday, August 1
MEXICO CITY (AP) — An Aeromexico jetliner taking off in a blustery storm smashed down into a nearby field but skidded to a stop virtually intact, and all 103 people aboard were able to escape advancing flames before fire engulfed the aircraft.
Passengers expressed gratitude to be alive, but many were extremely shaken after the crash Tuesday afternoon.
“It was really, really ugly,” said Lorenzo Nunez, a passenger from Chicago who fled the plane with his two sons and wife. “It burned in a question of seconds,” he told reporters, snapping his fingers for emphasis.
Survivors said the Embraer 190 plane burst into flames right after it hit the ground.
“We felt the flames coming quickly … there was a lot of smoke,” Jaquelin Flores told the newspaper El Sol.
Romulo Campuzano, head of a political party in Durango state who was on the plane, told Foro TV that both wings were on fire as he bolted from the aircraft.
Durango state Gov. Jose Aispuro said a gust of wind hit flight AM2431 heading from the city of Durango to Mexico City just as it was lifting off the tarmac, forcing the pilot to abort takeoff.
Passengers said they heard a loud noise as the plane’s left wing banged to the ground, and both engines tore loose. The plane stayed upright, though, and the escape slides activated.
Aispuro said it was too soon to speculate on the cause of the crash. Mechanical failure and human error could be factors, but certainly the weather wasn’t favorable. Strong wind and heavy rain with marble-sized hail lashed Durango city, even damaging hangars at the airport.
“The most important thing in the seriousness that is an accident of this nature is that there were no deaths — that’s what is most encouraging for us,” Aispuro said at a news conference.
After the accident, several passengers walked away from the plane before first responders arrived. Some sought medical help, while others rushed home to loved ones. Officials spent much of the afternoon tracking down survivors to ensure that everyone was accounted for.
Officials said 49 people had been hospitalized — most with minor injuries. The pilot suffered the most serious injury, a cervical lesion that required surgery. Some people had burns on a quarter of their bodies, said Durango state Health Ministry spokesman Fernando Ros.
Aispuro said all were expected to live.
Aeromexico Chief Executive Officer Andres Conesa described the day as “very difficult” and credited the timely reaction of crew and passengers for the lack of fatalities.
“Our heart is with those affected and their families,” he said at an evening news conference.
Conesa said the passengers included 88 adults, nine children and two babies and the crew consisted of two flight attendants and two pilots.
He said the jetliner had been sent for maintenance in February and the crew was well-rested, having started their work day in Durango.
The web site Planespotters.net said the Brazilian-made medium-range jet was about 10 years old and had seen service with two other airlines before joining the Aeromexico fleet.
Operations were suspended at Durango city’s Guadalupe Victoria airport after the crash.
Aeromexico crash: Stronger planes can mean fewer fatalities
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — An aviation expert says passengers in plane crashes like Tuesday’s Aeromexico accident — in which no one died — have better chances of survival due to more robust aircraft construction.
Air safety investigator Adrian Young, from the Netherlands-based consultancy To70, said that crash survival rates “are higher than they have ever been” in part because “airplanes are stronger than ever.”
He told The Associated Press that people are now less likely to be trapped by collapsed seats and floors, especially if the plane is level and on flat ground, as in the crash in northern Mexico. He said it was too early to speculate about the cause.
Authorities said there were no fatalities among 97 passengers and four crew. Rescuers took 49 people to hospitals, most with minor injuries.
US Vatican cardinal: “Not once did I even suspect” McCarrick
By NICOLE WINFIELD
Wednesday, August 1
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The highest-ranking American at the Vatican insisted Tuesday he never knew or even suspected that his former boss, disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, allegedly sexually abused boys and adult seminarians, telling The Associated Press he is livid that he was kept in the dark because he would have done something about it.
Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican’s family and laity office, spoke as the U.S. church hierarchy has come under fire from ordinary American Catholics outraged that McCarrick’s misconduct with men was apparently an open secret in some U.S. church circles.
Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation as cardinal on Saturday and ordered him to live a lifetime of penance and prayer pending the outcome of a canonical trial.
In an open letter Tuesday, a contributor to the conservative Catholic magazine First Things urged Catholics to withhold diocesan donations to the U.S. church until an independent investigation determines which U.S. bishops knew about McCarrick’s misdeeds — a “nuclear option” aimed at making the laity’s sense of betrayal heard and felt.
Some of that outrage has been directed at Farrell, who was consecrated as a bishop by McCarrick in 2001 and served as his vicar general in the archdiocese of Washington until McCarrick’s 2006 retirement. Some Catholic commentators have speculated that Farrell must have at least heard the rumors that Catholic laity, students and professors at Catholic University in Washington and even some journalists had heard.
Farrell lived with McCarrick and other priests and bishops in a converted school building off Dupont Circle that serves as a residence for Washington clergy. But Farrell said he never heard any rumors about his boss’ penchant for young men, or suspected anything, and was not McCarrick’s roommate, as some bloggers have claimed.
“That might be hard for somebody to believe, but if that’s the only thing on your mind, well then you’ll focus on that. I was focused on running the archdiocese. What Cardinal McCarrick was doing here, there and everywhere and all over the world, didn’t enter into my daily routine of running the archdiocese of Washington,” he said.
“At no time did anyone ever approach me and tell me. And I was approached by over 70 victims of abuse from all over the United States after 2002,” when the U.S. sex abuse scandal first erupted, Farrell said.
“Never once did I even suspect,” he said. “Now, people can say ‘Well you must be a right fool that you didn’t notice.’ I must be a right fool, but I don’t think I am. And that’s why I feel angry.”
McCarrick, 88, was initially removed from public ministry on June 20 after U.S. church officials determined that an accusation that he fondled a teenage altar server in New York in the 1970s was “credible and substantiated.”
Since then, another man identified only as James has come forward saying that McCarrick first exposed himself to him when he was 11 and then engaged in a sexually abusive relationship with him for the next 20 years. McCarrick has denied the initial accusation but has not responded to the second one.
At the time of McCarrick’s June removal, the New Jersey archdioceses of Newark and Metuchen revealed that they had received three complaints from adults alleging misconduct and harassment by McCarrick and had settled two of them.
It was apparently no secret that McCarrick invited seminarians to his New Jersey beach house and into his bed, suggesting that some in the U.S. hierarchy knew of his abuse of power but turned a blind eye. Certainly the New Jersey bishops who handled the settlements in 2005 and 2007 would have known.
In addition, a group of concerned American Catholics reportedly traveled to the Vatican in 2000 to warn of McCarrick’s misconduct, but he was still appointed Washington archbishop and made a cardinal in 2001.
As head of the most politically powerful U.S. archdiocese, McCarrick took a lead role in the U.S. bishops’ 2002 response to the sex abuse scandal. He served as a spokesman when the bishops were summoned to the Vatican that spring and then helped craft the “zero tolerance” policy they adopted at a landmark congress in Dallas later that year.
That hypocrisy is what is driving the sense of betrayal among rank-and-file Catholics, and the anger they are directing at McCarrick’s fellow bishops.
“Not only did they not produce what they promised, but we have a level of downright depravity that was right in their midst while they were making these promises,” said Marjorie Murphy Campbell, a civil and canon lawyer in Park City, Utah, who has called for an independent investigation into the scandal.
On Monday, Catholic University of America revoked the honorary degree it gave McCarrick in 2006, following in the footsteps of Fordham University in New York. Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, has suggested that McCarrick be defrocked and for all those in the hierarchy who knew to be held accountable “for their refusal to act, thereby enabling others to be hurt.”
Farrell, 71, said he only met McCarrick after McCarrick arrived in Washington, where he was appointed archbishop in November 2000.
Farrell said he never expected to remain working in the Washington archdiocesan chancery because he wanted to get back to being a pastor at the Annunciation parish on Massachusetts Avenue. He said he turned down McCarrick’s request that he give up the parish three times, but then was told by the Vatican ambassador that he was being made a bishop.
Farrell also said he didn’t know anything about misconduct with seminarians at a New Jersey beach house and that no accusations against McCarrick were ever brought to the Washington archdiocese, which from 2002 onward was deluged with claims from victims of sexually abusive clergy.
“If there were a complaint … I would have discussed it with the (archdiocesan) chancellor, who was a woman at the time, a woman who was in charge of victims and in charge of all the telephone calls we would get,” he said.
The current archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, has said that a review of archdiocesan records showed no complaints about McCarrick.
“There is no record there,” Farrell told the AP. “Because I would know about it.”
Farrell said that in retrospect, if he had known that McCarrick took seminarians to a beach house it would have raised a red flag. But he also recalled that when he was growing up, he played soccer with a priest-led squad, and that American priests used to regularly run retreats for young people.
“He didn’t invite Washington seminarians there — that I would have known,” Farrell said of the beach house. He also said that if the rumors about McCarrick were so well known, “it would have been looked at” by Vatican authorities who vet bishop nominations.
But McCarrick was an effective fundraiser even before he came to Washington, and the Vatican has a history of ignoring reports of sexual misconduct for clergy adept at bringing in donations and vocations.
Farrell said he didn’t want to dwell on the McCarrick scandal anymore as he helps organize the Catholic Church’s huge family rally in his native Ireland next month, which will be presided over by Francis. In a remarkable shift, it is being led by a 2-to-3 margin by laity.
Farrell said he understands the betrayal felt by ordinary Catholics over McCarrick.
“I feel it myself,” he said.
Presumed US war remains begin journey home from South Korea
By KIM YONG-HO, HYUNG-JIN KIM and ROBERT BURNS
Wednesday, August 1
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea (AP) — Decades after the end of the Korean War in 1953, the remains of dozens of presumed U.S. war dead began their journey home following a repatriation ceremony in South Korea on Wednesday.
North Korea handed over the remains in 55 boxes last week and allowed a U.S. military transport plane to move them to the U.S. Osan Air Base near Seoul in South Korea. While it was an apparent goodwill gesture by North Korea toward the United States, the return comes amid growing skepticism about whether the North will follow through on its pledge of nuclear disarmament.
Hundreds of U.S. and South Korean troops gathered at a hanger at the Osan base for the repatriation ceremony, which included a silent tribute, a rifle salute and the playing of the U.S. and South Korean national anthems and dirges in front of the U.N. flag-covered metal cases containing the remains.
“For the warrior, this is a cherished duty, a commitment made to one another before going into battle, and passed on from one generation of warriors to the next,” Vincent Brooks, chief of the U.S. military in South Korea, said in a speech. “This is a solemn reminder that our work is not complete until all have been accounted for, no matter how long it takes to do so.”
The remains were then moved in gray vans to an airfield where U.S. and South Korean soldiers loaded them one by one into two transport planes. Four U.S. fighter jets flew low in a tribute.
Later Wednesday, the transport planes left for Hawaii, where the remains will undergo an in-depth forensic analysis, in some cases using mitochondrial DNA profiles, at a Defense Department laboratory to establish identifications. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week that the return of the 55 boxes was a positive step but not a guarantee that the bones are American.
A U.S. defense official said Tuesday that it probably will take months if not years to fully determine individual identities from the remains. The official, who discussed previously undisclosed aspects of the remains issue on condition of anonymity, also said North Korea provided a single military dog tag along with the remains. The official did not know details about the single dog tag, including the name on it or whether it was even that of an American military member.
Vice President Mike Pence, the son of a Korean War veteran, is to fly to Hawaii for what the military calls an “honorable carry ceremony” marking the arrival of the remains on American soil.
The repatriation is a breakthrough in a long-stalled U.S. effort to obtain war remains from North Korea. About 7,700 U.S. soldiers are listed as missing from the 1950-53 Korean War, and 5,300 of the remains are believed to still be in North Korea.
“The remains received from North Korea are being handled with the utmost care and respect by professional historians, forensic scientists, uniformed personnel and government officials,” the U.S.-led U.N. Command said in a statement. It said it “never leaves troops behind, living or deceased, and will continue the mission of repatriation until every service member returns home.”
The bones’ return was part of an agreement reached during a June summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump thanked Kim for the return.
During the summit, Kim also agreed to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in return for Trump’s promise of security guarantees. Trump later suspended annual military drills with South Korea which North Korea had long called an invasion rehearsal.
But Trump now faces criticism at home and elsewhere that North Korea hasn’t taken any serious steps toward disarmament and may be trying to buy time to weaken international sanctions against it.
North Korea halted nuclear and missile tests, shut down its nuclear testing site and began dismantling facilities at its rocket launch site. But many experts say those are neither irrevocable nor serious steps that could show the country is sincere about denuclearization.
The Washington Post reported Monday that U.S. intelligence agencies have obtained evidence indicating that North Korea is continuing to build long-range missiles. It cited anonymous officials “familiar with the intelligence” as saying that work on at least one and possibly two intercontinental ballistic missiles was underway.
North Korea may want to use the remains’ return to keep diplomacy with the United States alive and win a reciprocal U.S. concession. Experts say the North likely wants a declaration of the end of the Korean War as part of U.S. security assurances.
An armistice that ended the Korean War has yet to be replaced with a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula in a technical state of war. North Korea has steadfastly argued its nuclear weapons are meant to neutralize alleged U.S. plans to attack it. The signing of a peace treaty could allow the North to demand the pullout of the 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea. The U.S. military presence in South Korea is the backbone of its security commitment to South Korea, which doesn’t’ have nuclear weapons.
Efforts to recover remains in North Korea have been fraught with political and other obstacles since the war’s end. Between 1990 and 1994, North Korea unilaterally handed over 208 caskets to the U.S., which turned out to contain remains of far more than 208 individuals, although forensics specialists thus far have established 181 identities. In addition, a series of U.S.-North Korean recovery efforts, termed “joint field activities,” between 1996 and 2005 yielded 229 caskets of remains, of which 153 have been identified, according to the Pentagon.
The recovery efforts stalled for more than a decade because of a standoff over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and a previous U.S. claim that security arrangements for its personnel working in the North were insufficient. The Trump administration, as part of the Singapore agreement, is pursuing discussions with North Korea on resuming those “field activities.”
Hyung-jin Kim reported from Seoul; Burns reported from Washington, DC.
Manafort accused of amassing ‘secret income’ as trial opens
By CHAD DAY and ERIC TUCKER
Wednesday, August 1
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Paul Manafort orchestrated a multi-million dollar conspiracy to evade U.S. tax and banking laws, leaving behind a trail of lies as he lived a lavish lifestyle, prosecutors said as they laid out their case against the former Trump campaign chairman.
Prosecutor Uzo Asonye told the jury during his opening statement Tuesday that Manafort considered himself above the law as he funneled tens of millions of dollars through offshore accounts. That “secret income” was used to pay for personal expenses such as a $21,000 watch, a $15,000 jacket made of ostrich and more than $6 million worth of real estate paid for in cash, Asonye said.
“A man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him — not tax law, not banking law,” Asonye said as he sketched out the evidence gathered by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in Manafort’s bank fraud and tax evasion trial.
Manafort’s trial is the first arising from Mueller’s investigation into potential ties between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia. It opened with extraordinary anticipation amid unresolved questions about whether Trump associates coordinated with the Kremlin to tip the election in the president’s favor.
But it was clear from the outset that the case would not address that question: Prosecutors did not once reference Manafort’s work for the Trump campaign nor mention Mueller’s broader and ongoing investigation into Russian election interference. Mueller was not present in the courtroom.
Manafort, the lone American charged by Mueller who has opted to stand trial instead of cooperate with prosecutors, was described by his defense lawyer as a hugely successful international political consultant who left the details of his finances to others.
He relied on a team of financial experts to keep track of the millions of dollars he earned from his Ukrainian political work and to ensure that that money was being properly reported, said attorney Thomas Zehnle. He especially trusted business associate Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty in Mueller’s investigation and is now the government’s star witness. But that trust was misplaced, Zehnle said in an opening statement that made clear that undermining the credibility of Gates — a former Trump campaign aide who spent years working for Manafort in Ukraine — is central to the defense strategy.
Zehnle warned jurors that Gates could not be trusted and was the type of witness who would say anything he could to save himself from a lengthy prison sentence and a crippling financial penalty.
“Money’s coming in fast. It’s a lot, and Paul Manafort trusted that Rick Gates was keeping track of it,” Zehnle said. “That’s what Rick Gates was being paid to do.”
The trial, decided by a jury of six men and six women who were seated after a brief selection process Tuesday, is expected to last several weeks.
After opening statements, the jury heard from the government’s first witness, Democratic strategist Tad Devine, who testified about his collaborations with Manafort on behalf of Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions. Devine testified that Manafort ran a tightly disciplined, professional campaign that contributed to his candidate’s victory.
Central to the government’s case are allegations that Manafort funneled more than $60 million in proceeds from his Ukrainian political consulting through offshore accounts, including in Cyprus, and hid a “significant” portion of it from the IRS. He created “bogus” loans, falsified documents and lied to his tax preparer and bookkeeper to conceal the money, which he obtained from Ukrainian oligarchs through a series of shell company transfers and later from fraudulently obtained bank loans in the U.S., prosecutors said.
But Zehnle said there was no evidence that Manafort ever intended to deceive the IRS. He denied allegations that Manafort had tried to conceal his earnings by storing money in bank accounts in Cyprus, saying that arrangement was not of Manafort’s doing but was instead the preferred method of payment of the supporters of the pro-Russia Ukrainian political party who were paying his consulting fees.
Defense lawyers also sought to address head-on Manafort’s wealth and the images of a gaudy lifestyle that jurors are expected to see.
“Paul Manafort travels in circles that most people will never know and he’s gotten handsomely rewarded for it,” Zehnle said. “We do not dispute that.”
Manafort has a second trial scheduled for September in the District of Columbia. It involves allegations that he acted as an unregistered foreign agent for Ukrainian interests and made false statements to the U.S. government.
The other 31 people charged by Mueller so far have either pleaded guilty or are Russians seen as unlikely to enter an American courtroom. Three Russian companies have also been charged.
Associated Press writer Matthew Barakat in Alexandria, Virginia, and Stephen Braun in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Chad Day at https://twitter.com/ChadSDay and Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP