Indonesia says survivors unlikely from Lion Air plane crash
By ACHMAD IBRAHIM and STEPHEN WRIGHT
Monday, October 29
KARAWANG, Indonesia (AP) — A Lion Air plane crashed into the sea just minutes after taking off from Indonesia’s capital on Monday, likely killing all 189 people on board. The accident was a blow to the country’s aviation safety record after the lifting of bans on its airlines by the European Union and U.S.
The search and rescue effort has recovered human remains, and based on their condition, one of its top officials said they’re not expecting to find any survivors. More than 300 people including soldiers, police and fishermen are involved in the grim search, retrieving aircraft debris and personal items such as a crumpled cellphone, ID cards, bags and photos from the seas northeast of Jakarta.
The accident involving a new plane has stunned Indonesia, and President Joko Widodo ordered the transport safety commission to investigate. He urged Indonesians to “keep on praying” as rescuers search for victims.
An air transport official, Novie Riyanto, said the flight was cleared to return to Jakarta after the pilot made a “return to base” request two to three minutes after taking off. It plunged into the sea about 10 minutes later. Weather conditions were normal but the aircraft had experienced a technical issue on its previous flight.
Lion Air said the jet, on a 1 hour and 10 minute flight to Pangkal Pinang on an island chain off Sumatra, was carrying 181 passengers, including one child and two babies, and eight crew members.
It said there were two foreigners on board the plane: its pilot, originally from New Delhi, and an Italian citizen.
Distraught friends and relatives prayed and hugged each other as they waited at Pangkal Pinang’s airport and at a crisis center set up at Jakarta’s airport. Indonesian TV broadcast pictures of a fuel slick and a debris field in the ocean.
At the search agency’s headquarters in Jakarta, family members arrived, hoping desperately for news.
Feni, who uses a single name, said her soon-to-be-married sister was on the flight, planning to meet relatives in Pangkal Pinang.
“We are here to find any information about my younger sister, her fiance, her in-law to be and a friend of them,” said Feni.
“We don’t have any information,” she said, as her father wiped tears from reddened eyes. “No one provided us with any information that we need. We’re confused. We hope that our family is still alive.”
Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani also arrived at the agency and met with its chief, seeking information about 20 ministry staff who were on the flight after attending a ministry event in Jakarta. Photos circulating online showed the distraught minister trying to comfort stunned colleagues.
The search and rescue agency said the flight ended in waters off West Java that are 30 to 35 meters (100 to 115 feet) deep.
The agency’s chief, Muhammad Syaugi, told a news conference that divers are trying to locate the wreckage.
Weather conditions for the flight were safe, according to the Indonesian meteorology agency. It said clouds associated with turbulence were not present and winds were weak.
The Boeing 737 Max 8 was delivered to Lion Air in mid-August and put in use within days, according to aviation website Flightradar24. It was leased from China Minsheng Investment Group Leasing Holdings Ltd., according to the official China News Service.
Malindo Air, a Malaysian subsidiary of Jakarta-based Lion Air, was the first airline to begin using the 737 Max 8 last year. The Max 8 replaced the similar 800 in the Chicago-based plane maker’s product line.
Lion Air president-director Edward Sirait said the plane had a “technical problem” on its previous flight from Bali to Jakarta but it had been fully remedied. He didn’t know specifics of the problem when asked in a TV interview. The pilot of Flight 610 had more than 6,000 flying hours while the co-pilot had more than 5,000 hours, according to the airline.
“Indeed there were reports about a technical problem, and the technical problem has been resolved in accordance with the procedures released by the plane manufacturer,” he said. “I did not know exactly but let it be investigated by the authorities.”
Boeing Co. said it was “deeply saddened” by the crash and was prepared to provide technical assistance to Indonesia’s crash probe.
The Transport Ministry said the plane took off from Jakarta at about 6:20 a.m. and crashed just 13 minutes later. Data from FlightAware showed it had reached an altitude of only 5,200 feet (1,580 meters).
The crash is the worst airline disaster in Indonesia since an AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea in December 2014, killing all 162 on board.
Indonesian airlines were barred in 2007 from flying to Europe because of safety concerns, though several were allowed to resume services in the following decade. The ban was completely lifted in June this year. The U.S. lifted a decadelong ban in 2016.
Lion Air, a discount carrier, is one of Indonesia’s youngest and biggest airlines, flying to dozens of domestic and international destinations.
In 2013, one of its Boeing 737-800 jets missed the runway while landing on Bali, crashing into the sea without causing any fatalities among the 108 people on board.
Wright reported from Jakarta. AP writers Niniek Karmini and Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta contributed to this report.
Opinion: Human Rights Pushed Aside in U.S.-N. Korea Discussions
By Donald Kirk
WASHINGTON — North Korean exploitation of the workers whom it sends overseas reaps dividends for the regime while depriving workers of their basic rights.
A prominent defector from North Korea, Roh Hui-chang, decried the fate of North Korean workers, saying conditions had only worsened while leader Kim Jong-un takes advantage of moves toward reconciliation by both the United States and South Korea.
“They are sending more workers overseas, mainly to China and Russia,” he said. “They work long hours, hardly have enough sleep, get one or two days off a month.”
Roh, who defected to South Korea after the execution of Jang Song-thaek, for whom he had worked, said he got the latest reports on life in North Korea as well as the misery inflicted on workers sent overseas several days ago.
Talking at a forum at the National Press Club in Washington, Roh lamented that both the U.S. and South Korean governments have dropped the topic of human rights in their efforts at North-South reconciliation. In ways, he said, life has worsened since Kim entered into dialog with South Korea and the United States.
Roh’s remarks struck a raw nerve among U.S. officials and analysts as they attempt to figure out how to deal with the whole issue of human rights while President Donald Trump still seems open to a second summit with Kim Jong-un. The Americans have avoided mention of human rights in North Korea, knowing that Kim would reject any attempt at blaming him, his government or the ruling Workers’ Party for the harsh rule needed to keep his people in line.
Roh estimated that 3,000 people were executed and an additional 15,000 imprisoned as Kim Jong-un consolidated his rule before and after Jang’s execution at the end of 2013. He said that he was working in Russia at the time as a bureaucrat in one of the companies controlled by Jang, whom he had gotten to know quite well.
“At first I couldn’t believe it when I heard he had been killed,” he said. “Then after hearing it, I was told that I should return to Pyongyang. I knew that I would be killed.” He defected, he said, first hiding for several months, but he declined to say how he actually got to South Korea, where he worked as a safety deputy for Halla Company and then to the United States, where he represents a health food company.
Roh did say, however, that he feared for the fate of his own family and friends after he escaped in order to avoid execution. He said that he had gotten brokers to visit his family home and that they had said no one was living there.
“I have no idea what happened to them,” he said.
Roh said workers who went overseas were hired only from families whose loyalty to the regime was totally certain. They might come from privileged backgrounds but often wound up in menial jobs, taking home the equivalent of a few dollars a week after most of their pay is confiscated as donations for the regime.
The Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul has estimated that as many as 147,000 North Koreans are working overseas, 80 percent of them in China and Russia.
U.S. officials have debated among themselves how hard to press the North Koreans on human rights considering that the North inevitably denounces criticism on the topic as slander intended to undermine the regime. Trump lambasted North Korea on human rights during a visit to Seoul last year and again in his State of the Union message in January, but he has not raised the topic while reversing U.S. policy toward the North this year.
Roh and Kim Tae-hoon, a well-known jurist who had served as chief judge of the Seoul District Court, both expressed misgivings about the shift in U.S. policy. The central point was that North Korea goes on repressing its citizens as usual despite Kim’s three summits with Moon and his summit with Trump in Singapore in June.
Roh predicted if Pope Francis goes to North Korea next year, that “nothing will change” while Kim organizes a massive welcome for the pope. Similarly, he doubted if another Trump-Kim summit would bring about the slightest results.
Suzanne Scholte, president of the Defense Forum Foundation, moderating the panel, sounded a slight note of optimism, indicating that Trump’s warm relationship was basically a negotiating ploy. By appearing to get along wonderfully with Kim, she suggested, Trump hoped to induce him seriously to change his policies — not only to take steps toward denuclearization but also to improve conditions for his people.
Both Roh and Kim Tae-hoon, founder of Lawyers for North Korean Human Rights and Unification of Korea, were deeply skeptical. Rather, they saw Kim Jong-un as basically putting on an act, misleading the rest of the world, notably South Koreans and Americans, into thinking he was really a benevolent leader when he remained as cruel as ever in controlling his own people.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Donald Kirk has been a columnist for Korea Times, South China Morning Post many other newspaper and magazines. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Influenza’s wild origins in the animals around us
March 9, 2018
Professor of Infectious Disease and Global Health, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University
Jonathan Runstadler receives funding from National Institutes of Health (HHSN272201400008C)
Tufts University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
In the early 20th century, the leading cause of death was infectious disease. Epidemics erupted with little warning, seemingly out of the blue. When the “Great Influenza” struck in 1918, it killed thousands of people a week in American cities and spread like wildfire around the globe. My great aunt, still a teenager, and living in the San Francisco area, was one of its estimated 50 to 100 million victims worldwide.
Neither public health authorities nor medical researchers understood that it was a virus that caused the 1918 pandemic – most of the world at that time didn’t even know what a virus was. A century later, death due to infection is much less common, thanks to public health efforts and improved medical technology and expertise. Once common diseases are now rare. Nonetheless, 100 years later, infectious disease specialists like me still fear the emergence of viral diseases that we will not be able to control, including influenza.
My laboratory, along with others around the world, is working to understand how and why new influenza viruses may grip us again. To do so, we need to go far beyond human hospitals and into the wild, where viruses persist in animal populations. As disease ecologists, we aim to understand the dynamics of pathogens in the environment and their interactions with hosts. By understanding more about what’s happening with viruses in animals, we believe we can be better prepared to evaluate, predict and respond if an infection spills over to humans, making people sick.
Identifying the invisible, infectious virus
Until well into the 1930s, the “Spanish flu” was mistakenly thought to be a bacterial infection, with Haemophilus influenzae commonly blamed. This bacterium is a pathogen in its own right and may have contributed heavily to the 1918 pandemic’s death toll – but it was a secondary infection in many of the severe cases, not the original cause of victims’ illnesses.
Researchers had only identified viral particles for the first time less than 30 years before the height of the flu pandemic and the fledgling field of virology was just beginning to identify them as causes of disease in plants and animals. Scientists were only first able to visualize a virus, the tobacco mosaic virus, after the 1931 invention of the electron microscope. Though the technology, knowledge and pace of research was different early in the 20th century, why did the discovery of influenza virus take so long?
The answer, it seems, lay at least in part in people’s naiveté about the relationship between animals, the environment and human disease. In 1918, veterinarian J.S. Koen noted a very similar disease to influenza in pigs. Yet, it wasn’t until 1931 that researcher Richard Shope identified a filterable agent, smaller than bacteria, as the cause of the disease in pigs and demonstrated the transmission of an influenza virus. That work spurred the description of human influenza virus in 1933.
The tools of molecular biology, including nucleic acid sequencing, developed through the latter half of the 20th century, finally helped open the vault on the origins of the 1918 pandemic. In 2005, through a combination of sleuthing and sequencing of the viral genome, Jeffrey Taubenberger and a team of researchers pieced together the genetic sequence of the deadly 1918 virus, using viruses collected from the corpses of soldiers and other bodies preserved in the Arctic permafrost who died during the pandemic.
They were able to connect the origins and evolution of the 1918 pandemic with viruses that circulate in other animals, particularly those from birds and the pigs examined by Dr. Koen. Just as seen in more recent outbreaks of new influenza viruses, the 1918 pandemic traced its origins to virus strains circulating in nature.
Natural world a reservoir for human disease
The critical insight that led to the work reconstructing the 1918 virus had come in the 1970s. Led by the determination of virologist Rob Webster, researchers realized that influenza viruses are rampant in the natural world, particularly in waterfowl. In birds and possibly other animals, influenza viruses are able to replicate and transmit to new hosts without causing any severe disease. On rare occasions, given the right circumstance, this new host is a different species. This cycle, common in many pathogens, is an important part of how virus is maintained in nature and explains how animals can be a reservoir for novel influenza viruses that can cause human illnesses.
As researchers have sequenced the influenza viruses found in ducks and other birds, as well as people, swine and other animals, a picture of viral ecology based in nature has come into focus. Birds serve as a reservoir for a vast diversity of influenza viruses to which all the major human pandemics trace their origin. People were largely unaware that at the same time as the 1918 flu pandemic, pigs were sick with the disease and influenza viruses were also causing ongoing fowl plague epidemics. Exactly how and where the 1918 virus entered the human population remains controversial. But the realization that influenza virus happily exists in a wild animal reservoir has influenced the way scientists study flu – and moreover, emerging disease of any sort.
This understanding is also part of what underlies the One Health movement – the concept that the health of humans is entwined with the health of animals and of the environment. The One Health and Evolutionary Medicine initiatives are forging collaborations between medical doctors, veterinarians, ecologists, environmental researchers and those in many other fields to describe the connections among environmental change, animals and human health.
Watching the wild world to protect human health
We now know that a full 60 percent of human infectious diseases are spread from animals. In the past 20 years, that awareness has resulted in stronger efforts at influenza surveillance worldwide and the identification of several other influenza viruses that threaten public health. In my lab’s work, we endeavor to describe the ecology and natural history of influenza virus in animals to understand how new viruses arise and what the risk is of spillover into new hosts where they may cause disease.
For instance, human activity – such as the existence of open landfills, habitat destruction or farming practices – can attract or force animals to crowd into spaces they normally may not. When interactions between species and the environment are disrupted in this way, how does it affect the circulation, evolution and movement of influenza viruses or other pathogens that those animals host? Changes in the ecology of pathogens in the wild are what most frequently leads to spillover into human populations and disease outbreak.
Following an epidemic of seal deaths in 2011 in New England, our broad group of collaborators has spent cold winter days sampling seals, where we’ve discovered evidence of persistent circulating influenza viruses. These results are leading us to explore how influenza is affecting the seals, but also what the impact of a rapidly expanding seal population will be on the virus. If seals are a mammalian reservoir more commonly infected than we knew, their populations may affect influenza disease ecology.
Surveillance and research work like that on influenza and its animal hosts has led to more aggressive efforts to stamp out emerging infections before they become human pandemics. It gives biomedical researchers a head start on characterizing possible pandemic viruses to understand their potential impact. And public health workers gain new insights on prevention and control of infection.
That information may be crucial in identifying and containing the next pandemic virus. The One Health community’s experience with influenza has informed how scientists try to understand and prevent the spread of other diseases, including SARS, Ebola and Zika. Researchers were quick to chase after the animal source of SARS and are still hard at work to identify reservoir hosts and understand the disease ecology of the Zika and Ebola viruses.
One hundred years after the “Great Influenza,” there’s still much to learn to lessen the risk of a repeat of 1918. In the last 10 years, thanks to the efforts of many researchers worldwide, including a renewed effort funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the pace of sequencing influenza viruses has leapt forward. Scientists are beginning to understand the true diversity of influenza virus, not only in birds, but in other animals as well.
Efforts at producing a universal vaccine to prevent influenza infection in humans show promise. But the ability to test those vaccines and to prepare for and predict emerging strains will not be complete without a strong understanding of the origin, movement and risk of viruses circulating in the animals and environment around us. With better understanding of these ecological connections coming from continued research, we hope we can be better prepared for the next pandemic.
How flu changes within the human body may hint at future global trends
June 27, 2017
Doctoral Student in Genome Sciences, University of Washington
Associate Member, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Affiliate Associate Professor of Genome Sciences and Microbiology, University of Washington
Katherine Xue is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Hertz Foundation.
Jesse Bloom’s research is supported by the NIH (NIAID and NIGMS), the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and a Faculty Scholars grant from the HHMI and Simons Foundation.
Partners: University of Washington provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Evolution is usually very slow, a process of change that takes thousands or millions of years to see.
But for influenza, evolution is fast – and deadly. Flu viruses change rapidly to escape the body’s defenses. Every few years, new variants of flu emerge and cause epidemics around the world.
Controlling the spread of flu means dealing with this ongoing evolution. Each year, experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) must make their best guess about how the virus will change in order to choose which flu strains to include in the annual vaccine.
This work is difficult and uncertain, and mistakes have real consequences. Worldwide, flu infects several million people each year and causes hundreds of thousands of deaths. In years when predictions miss the mark and the flu shot is very different from circulating strains, more people are vulnerable to infection.
In the past several years, advances in genome sequencing have begun to shed light on the beginnings of viral evolution, deep within individual infections. We wondered whether, for flu, this information might give us an early glimpse of future global evolutionary trends.
What could a single person’s flu infection tell us about how the virus changes across the world? As it turns out, a surprising amount.
Looking deep inside an infection
Every step in flu’s evolution begins with a mistake. As viruses copy themselves within an infected person, they sometimes mutate, creating small changes to their genetic blueprint.
Most mutations are harmful to the virus because they break the machinery it needs to function. But every so often, a mutant virus survives, and even thrives. Viruses play a constant game of cat-and-mouse with the human immune system. Sometimes, a mutant virus may be just different enough to escape the body’s notice.
A mutant virus with this kind of advantage can multiply quickly and come to dominate the infection. Eventually, it may even spread from person to person, and from there, start spreading around the world.
Recently, it’s become easier to track how viruses change within the human body. The same advances that have made it cheap and easy to sequence human genomes are changing how we study viruses. For the cost of sequencing a single human genome, we can sequence thousands of viruses from throughout an infection to track new mutations as they arise.
These mutations can show us how the virus reacts to challenging environments within the human body. For HIV, where infections often last years or even decades, evolution can be substantial, even within a single person. In particular, viruses often evolve drug resistance in response to antiviral treatment.
Tracking flu evolution in four long infections
We recently tracked viral evolution in four cancer patients who had flu infections lasting several months. Most flu infections last about a week, which limits the amount of change that can occur. But in patients with weak immune systems, infections can last a long time, with severe effects.
How did flu change within these long infections? By sequencing viruses from different times during the infection and comparing their genomes, we were able to identify new mutations and track their fates.
Evolution acted in a matter of weeks. One clear example was resistance to Tamiflu. The patients we studied were taking the drug to control their infections. But, as in prior studies, viruses carrying drug-resistance mutations eventually emerged. These mutations might partly explain why the infections lasted so long.
Drug-resistance mutations weren’t the only evolutionary changes we saw. Half a dozen mutant viruses, all just slightly different from one another, would sometimes compete simultaneously in a single person.
These competing viruses made evolution a complicated affair. A mutation that started spreading one week would sometimes go extinct the next. Presumably, it was outcompeted by an even better mutation.
In some cases, we found the exact same mutations in viruses from different patients in our study, even though we could tell that the patients did not infect each other. We’d only very rarely expect such similarities to happen due to chance. The viruses may have hit on similar adaptations in response to evolutionary challenges. Some of these mutations may have helped the virus avoid the immune system, echoing other studies.
Forecasting the future
What’s more, many mutations within these patients matched mutations that later spread around the world. In the spikes of flu’s outer coat, which help the virus enter host cells, the mutation N225D emerged in three of the four patients in our study. By 2015, about eight years after our patients were infected, most flu viruses around the world carried the exact same change.
For us, this was unexpected. Evolution is full of trade-offs, and some mutations that help flu adapt within people may slow its transmission from person to person. We also didn’t know whether evolution in such unusually long flu infections would match patterns of change around the world.
But in our study, flu evolution in individual people showed striking similarities to evolution around the globe. We could see hints of some global evolutionary trends within just a few individuals.
As technologies continue to improve, it’s becoming easier to look deep inside flu infections, like we did. WHO labs sequence flu strains from thousands of people every year to monitor flu evolution. Researchers are sequencing more and more strains in ways that let us catch mutations as they first arise within individual people.
Each of these thousands of infections is like a separate evolutionary experiment. By comparing mutations that appear in different infections, we may get a sense of evolutionary possibilities and constraints.
Somewhere down the line, this kind of information may help forecast flu’s evolution. For now, at least, it’s uncovering some of the dynamic processes of evolution that take place within each of us.