News & Current Affairs

October 3, 2008

Remains found in Fossett’s plane

Remains found in Fossett’s plane

US investigators say they have found what they believe may be human remains amid the wreckage of adventurer Steve Fossett’s plane in eastern California.

The remains, although minimal, are said to be enough to provide a DNA sample for identification testing.

The 63-year-old millionaire disappeared a year ago while on a solo flight from a ranch in neighboring Nevada.

His plane was finally located on Wednesday after a hiker handed items belonging to Mr Fossett to police.

‘Bone fragment’

The wreckage was found during a subsequent aerial search of a remote stretch of the Sierra Nevada mountains west of the town of Mammoth Lakes, at an altitude of around 10,000ft (3,048m).

A ground team flown into the area by helicopter later confirmed the identity of the plane, a single-engine Bellanca Super Decathlon, which officials said seemed to have struck the mountainside head-on.

“It was a hard-impact crash, and he would’ve died instantly,” said Jeff Page, emergency management co-ordinator for Lyon County, Nevada, who assisted in the search.

Most of the fuselage had disintegrated, with engine parts scattered over a debris field stretching about 150ft (46m) by 400ft (122m).

Search teams combing the site found more personal effects and what they described as a bone fragment, measuring 2 inches (5cm) by 1.5 inches (2.5cm).

SOME OF FOSSETT’S RECORDS
Steve Fossett climbs out of his cockpit after his record-breaking flight around the world in 2005
1998/2002: Long-distance for solo ballooning
2001/2002: Duration for solo ballooning
2002: First solo round-the-world balloon flight
First balloon crossings of Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, South Atlantic, South Pacific, Indian Oceans
Seven fastest speed sailing titles
13 World Sailing Speed Record Council titles
2001: Fastest transatlantic sailing
2004: Fastest round-the-world sailing
Round-the-world titles for medium airplanes
US transcontinental titles for non-military aircraft

“We found human remains, but there’s very little,” said Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. “Given the length of time the wreckage has been out there, it’s not surprising there’s not very much.”

DNA tests would be performed on the material on a lab in California, he said.

Earlier, Madera County Sheriff John Anderson confirmed the find but injected a note of caution. “We don’t know if it’s human. It certainly could be,” he said.

Officials now plan to remove the wreckage of the plane for reassembly and examination, and search for further human remains. But snow is expected over the weekend, which could potentially hamper the investigation.

Steve Fossett became the first person to circle the globe solo in a balloon in 2002 and had about 100 other world records to his name.

He vanished in September 2007 after taking off from a Nevada ranch for a solo flight.

For more than a year there was no trace of him, despite an intensive search.

But on Monday the hiker found identification documents belonging to him in undergrowth about 0.25 miles (0.4km) from the crash site, triggering an aerial search of a new area.

“The uncertainty surrounding my husband’s death over this past year has created a very difficult situation for me,” Mr Fossett’s widow, Peggy, said in a statement. “I hope now to be able to bring to closure a very painful chapter in my life.

“I prefer to think about Steve’s life rather than his death and celebrate his many extraordinary accomplishments.”

British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson also paid tribute to his friend and fellow adventurer.

“He led an extraordinary, absolutely remarkable life, and now we can remember him for what he was and move on,” he said.

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August 14, 2008

Arsenic-munching bacteria found

Arsenic-munching bacteria found

Bacteria(USGS)

Microbial biofilms form in rocky pools, fed by hot springs containing arsenic

In the warm, bubbling pools of Mono Lake in California, scientists have isolated a bacterium that fuels itself on arsenic.

Combining light and arsenic, these bacteria make their food and multiply using a chemical that is toxic to most other life forms.

The researchers think using arsenic as an energy source was a process used by ancient bacteria.

Their findings are reported in the journal Science.

Ronald Oremland of the US Geological Survey explained that these bacteria are photosynthetic, using sunlight – like plants – to turn carbon dioxide into food.

What is different about them is that instead of using water in this process, they use arsenic.

The US-based researchers isolated the bacterium from the lake, which lies at the foot of the Sierra Nevada.

Colour film

“These lakes are fed by hydrothermal waters that leach out arsenic-containing minerals from the surrounding rocks,” Dr Oremland told.

The researchers noticed that the bacteria had colonised small, hot pools, forming colorful “biofilms”.

MonoLake(USGS)

Bacteria living in Mono Lake, California can survive the high levels of arsenic

“We suspected that these bacteria were using arsenic to make a living, so we scraped the biofilms off the rock and studied them under laboratory conditions.”

By first withholding light, then arsenic, the team showed that the bacteria required both to grow.

This the first time an organism has been found that can use arsenic to photosynthesise under anaerobic conditions, Dr Oremland believes.

He suspects that this is an ancient ability in bacteria.

“We think that bacteria were photosynthesising before oxygen was present in the atmosphere,” he said.

Primordial niche

Understanding how arsenic is metabolized by bacteria could help scientists comprehend its damaging affects inside human cells.

Worldwide, 144 million people are exposed to toxic levels of arsenic in their drinking water.

It enters the body’s cells by diffusion; and once inside, it disrupts how they function by binding to their machinery, inactivating it, and disrupting the way energy is transported.

Long-term exposure can lead to skin disease and kidney and bladder cancer, and it is thought to stunt the intellectual development of children.

The most arsenic-contaminated regions are in India, Pakistan, and China, where soluble arsenic in ground waters is above the World Health Organization’s (WHO) suggested maximum safe level of 10 parts per billion.

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