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January 30, 2020

The 20-year anniversary of Flight 261; Maintenance error led to the death of 88

The 20-year anniversary of Flight 261; Maintenance error led to the death of 88
Sundial memorial for the Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crash, January 31, 2000 off the coast of California.
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Alaska: The 20-year anniversary of Flight 261; Maintenance error led to the death of 88 By DAVE KIFFER - Twenty years ago this week, an Alaska Airlines MD- 83 crashed in the ocean near Los Angeles on a flight from Puerto Vallarta to San Francisco and Seattle. It was the second deadliest crash in Alaska Airlines history and shined a light on what investigators determined was a lax maintenance regime in the airline.

AK 261 was a scheduled flight from Puerto Vallarta to Seattle with a stop in San Francisco. For a variety of reasons, it was not a full flight and because of that it was packed with people who were connected in some way with Alaska Airlines. Thirty five of the passengers and crew were either Alaska/Horizon employees or their dependents. The crash would cast a pall over the airline for many years.

The plane, a twin-engine McDonnell Douglas MD-83 was less than a decade old and had more than 26,000 flight hours. The crew was very experienced. Captain Ted Thompson, 53, had 17,750 flight hours and 4,000 hours on MD jets. First Officer, Bill Tansky, 57, and more than 8,000 flight hours, the majority of which where in MD jets. There were three flight attendants on board, Alison Shanks, Craig Pulanco and Kristen Mills.

AK 261 left Puerto Vallarta at 1:37 pm Pacific Standard Time. The first leg – to San Francisco – was expected to take just under four hours. The first two hours – at a cruising altitude of 31,000 went as normal, but as the jet was approaching the Los Angeles area, the crew contacted Alaska’s dispatch and maintenance operation in Seattle.

The crew was having trouble with a jammed horizontal stabilizer and was considering diverting to Los Angeles International Airport and landing. The horizontal stabilizer is crucial to keeping a jet stable in flight as pilots can use it to make slight adjustments. In this case, the jammed stabilizer was causing the pilots to keep a constant pressure on the control yoke to keep the plane steady.

With the assistance of the maintenance techs, the pilots tried several things to free the yoke, but they were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, the crew was in contact with the AK Air dispatch office about diverting the flight to Los Angeles.
According to the final National Transportation Safety Board report, the dispatch in Seattle expressed concern that not flying directly to San Francisco would exacerbate an existing operational “flow” problem.

That sparked a slightly testy exchange with the pilots, who replied that they were more concerned about not “overflying” a suitable diversion airport than they were about “flow.”

Since the problem with the jammed stabilizer couldn’t be fixed the pilots decided to attempt to land in Los Angeles. As they were making those preparations, the jammed stabilizer broke free. But then it immediately moved into what the report called “an extreme nose down position.”

The jet went into an almost vertical nose-dive that lasted for 80 seconds and took the plane from 31,000 feet to just about 23,000 feet before the pilots managed to regain control of the aircraft.

They continued to prepare the plane for an emergency landing in Los Angeles. In consultation with the LA tower, the crew decided to continue to decrease altitude and prepare for landing, but to do it out over the ocean until they were sure they had the plane under control.

About 15 minutes after the initial dive, a second catastrophe hit the doomed the jet. The report notes that the cockpit voice recorder picked up four distinct “thumps” And then an extremely loud noise. Later it was determined that noise the was sound of the “jackscrew” assembly in the stabilizer completely failing.

The jet pitched into another steep dive, which was witnessed by several other airplanes in the area which had been asked to keep visual contact with AK 261. - More...
Thursday PM - January 30, 2020

Early North Americans May Have Been More Diverse Than Previously Suspected

Early North Americans May Have Been More Diverse Than Previously Suspected
Original position of the skeletal remains inside submerged cave of Muknal.
Credit: Jerónimo Avilés


Alaska - North America: Early North Americans May Have Been More Diverse Than Previously Suspected - An analysis of four ancient skulls found in Mexico suggests that the first humans to settle in North America were more biologically diverse than scientists had previously believed.

Ancient skulls from the cave systems at Tulum, Mexico suggest that the earliest populations of North America may have already had a high level of morphological diversity, according to a study published January 29, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Mark Hubbe from Ohio State University, USA, Alejandro Terrazas Mata from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico, and colleagues.

The coastal, mostly-flooded limestone cave system in the city of Tulum in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo encompasses at least eight different sites with ancient human remains (approximately 13-8 kya). After dating and scanning four relatively well-preserved skulls retrieved from different sites within this cave network, Hubbe and colleagues used craniofacial morphology to compare these skulls with a reference dataset of worldwide modern human populations.

The skulls were from individuals who lived 9,000 to 13,000 years ago, in the late Pleistocene and early Holocene eras.

The authors found unexpectedly high diversity among the skulls. While the oldest skull showed close morphological associations with modern arctic North Americans in Greenland and Alaska, the second-oldest skull demonstrated strong affinities with modern European populations--a new finding for early American remains using this type of reference comparison. Of the two remaining skulls, one appeared to show associations with Asian and Native American groups, while the other showed associations to arctic populations in addition to having some modern South American features.

These findings complicate the story accepted until now, based on ancient skeletons analyzed from South America, which suggested the first settlers in the Americas were very similar, said Mark Hubbe, co-lead author of the study and professor of anthropology at The Ohio State University.

"The first Americans were much more complex, much more diverse than we thought," Hubbe said.

"We have always talked about the settlement of the Americas as if North America and South America were the same. But they are different continents with different stories of how they were settled."

Hubbe led the work with Alejandro Terrazas Mata of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico. Their work was published yesterday (Jan. 29, 2020) in PLOS ONE.

Archaeologists discovered the four skulls between 2008 and 2015 in submerged caves in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. At the time the four people were living, the caves were above sea level. - More...
Thursday PM - January 30, 2020

Investigation of West Coast Gray Whale Strandings Continues; Survey counts migrating whales for a new population assessment

Investigation of West Coast Gray Whale Strandings Continues; Survey counts migrating whales for a new population assessment
Gray whales scoop up and sift through mouthfuls of sea-bottom sediments for food, trailing plumes of mud behind them.
Credit: ASAMM/Alaska Fisheries Science Center,
funded by BOEM IAA No. M11PG00033.


Alaska: Investigation of West Coast Gray Whale Strandings Continues; Survey counts migrating whales for a new population assessment - Gray whales have begun their annual southbound migration along the West Coast to Mexico. Science teams continue to investigate the cause of more than 200 strandings of dead and often thin gray whales during their northbound migration last spring.

In May 2019, NOAA Fisheries declared the elevated gray whale strandings an Unusual Mortality Event (UME), which supported the international scientific response and investigation into the cause. In 2019, a total of 123 gray whales stranded dead in the United States, including Alaska. Another 81 strandings were reported in Mexico and 11 in Canada.

Scientists at a NOAA Fisheries field station at Granite Canyon on the coast of Central California are now counting the southbound whales as part of a regular survey to assess their abundance. The survey will provide some of the first population-level data on the whales since the UME was declared, said Dave Weller, a research biologist at the agency’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif., who is leading the effort.

Gray whales undertake one of the longest migrations on Earth. Every year they travel between feeding grounds in the Arctic and the warmer waters of Mexico where they spend the winter and rear calves. Researchers do not expect to see many strandings during the ongoing southbound migration because the whales have just finished the summer feeding in the Arctic.

“This is the time when they should be in about the best shape,” said Deborah Fauquier, veterinary medical officer in NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Protected Resources who is also coordinating the international investigation into the UME. “Some of the gray whales that died earlier were extremely thin and malnourished, so we are looking for any signs of poor body condition to indicate the animals are still under nutritional stress.”   

The northbound migration in spring is a greater endurance test for the whales because they feed very little during the migration or the winter in Mexico. They may exhaust what’s left of their energy reserves on the way back to the Arctic to feed. - More...
Thursday PM - January 30, 2020

“Blob” Research Reveals Environmental Effects That Shut Down Fishing and Hiked Whale Entanglements

“Blob” Research Reveals Environmental Effects That Shut Down Fishing and Hiked Whale Entanglements
Humpback whales commonly lunge out of the water in pursuit of prey.
Credit: John Calambokidis/Cascadia Research Collective.


Fisheries: “Blob” Research Reveals Environmental Effects That Shut Down Fishing and Hiked Whale Entanglements - An ecological pileup of unprecedented changes in the ocean off the West Coast beginning about 2014 led to record entanglements of humpback and other whales. This put the region’s most valuable commercial fishery at risk, new research shows.

The findings reflect a new management challenge brought about by a changing climate, recovering whale populations, and fishing pressure, according to the new research published in Nature Communications. The situation calls for new measures that alert fishermen to the risk of entanglements and help managers adjust to more rapid and frequent changes in the marine environment.

“We need to put information in the hands of those who can use it, at a time when it can make a difference,” said Jarrod Santora, a research scientist at NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) in Santa Cruz, California, and lead author of the research “We are seeing changes coming at us in ways they never have before.”

Santora and his colleagues are developing a website that will use oceanographic data to forecast the areas where whales are most likely to be feeding off the West Coast. Crab fishermen could then use the information to help decide where—and where not—to set their traps. It may also help managers decide where and when to open—or close—fishing.

The new research teases out the ecological causes and effects that contributed to the spike in reported whale entanglements. Many involved traps set for Dungeness crab, said Nathan Mantua, a research scientist at the SWFSC and co-author of the research. Reported entanglements have since dropped off but remain higher than before the increase.

“We had all these things that weren’t part of anyone’s experience come together in this remarkable three-year period,” he said.

Conflict Prompts Improved Communication

The entanglements have also prompted environmental lawsuits that threaten to restrict crab fishing. At the same time, though, the focus on entanglements has led to better communication and conversation between fishermen, environmental groups, and managers. This is in due to working groups that have also developed tools to better anticipate and avoid entanglement risk. - More...
Thursday PM - January 30, 2020

jpg yearly temperature anomalies from 1880 to 2019

2019 Was the 2nd-Hottest Year on Record
This plot shows yearly temperature anomalies from 1880 to 2019, with respect to the 1951-1980 mean, as recorded by NASA, NOAA, the Berkeley Earth research group, the Met Office Hadley Centre (UK), and the Cowtan and Way analysis. Though there are minor variations from year to year, all five temperature records show peaks and valleys in sync with each other. All show rapid warming in the past few decades, and all show the past decade has been the warmest.
Credits: NASA GISS/Gavin Schmidt



Weather: 2019 Was the 2nd-Hottest Year on Record - According to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Earth's global surface temperatures in 2019 were the second warmest since modern recordkeeping began in 1880.

Globally, 2019 temperatures were second only to those of 2016 and continued the planet's long-term warming trend: the past five years have been the warmest of the last 140 years.

This past year, they were 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (0.98 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.

“The decade that just ended is clearly the warmest decade on record,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt. “Every decade since the 1960s clearly has been warmer than the one before.”

Since the 1880s, the average global surface temperature has risen and the average temperature is now more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit (a bit more than 1 degree Celsius) above that of the late 19th century. For reference, the last Ice Age was about 10 degrees Fahrenheit colder than pre-industrial temperatures.

Using climate models and statistical analysis of global temperature data, scientists have concluded that this increase mostly has been driven by increased emissions into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by human activities.

“We crossed over into more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit warming territory in 2015 and we are unlikely to go back. This shows that what’s happening is persistent, not a fluke due to some weather phenomenon: we know that the long-term trends are being driven by the increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” Schmidt said.

Because weather station locations and measurement practices change over time, the interpretation of specific year-to-year global mean temperature differences has some uncertainties. Taking this into account, NASA estimates that 2019’s global mean change is accurate to within 0.1 degrees Fahrenheit, with a 95% certainty level.

Weather dynamics often affect regional temperatures, so not every region on Earth experienced similar amounts of warming. NOAA found the 2019 annual mean temperature for the contiguous 48 United States was the 34th warmest on record, giving it a “warmer than average” classification. The Arctic region has warmed slightly more than three times faster than the rest of the world since 1970. - More...
Thursday PM - January 30, 2020



DANNY TYREE: The ACLU's 100th Birthday - Did you realize that January 19th marked the 100th birthday of that indefatigable advocacy group the American Civil Liberties Union?

People have a visceral reaction to the inescapable headlines about the ACLU; you either love it or hate it. (As in “Yay! I’m being protected from racial profiling” versus “But I didn’t KNOW using the Lord’s name around a SCHOOL of fish was a violation of the separation of church and state!”)

For a full century, the group has worked tirelessly to defend the Constitution of the United States.  Of course, their courting of activist judges shows they view it as a “living document” (unless its mommy doesn’t want it living anymore).

The ACLU wants everyone to enjoy human dignity and breathe freely. (“If your breathing is a tad nonexistent, we can still file an injunction and get you a voter registration card.”)

The nonprofit organization undeniably leans to the left, but its role in society is much more nuanced than that. 

Yes, the ACLU supports affirmative action, adoptions by LGBTQ parents, the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling and bans on school-sanctioned prayers. But it has also worked with the National Rifle Association to prevent creation of a national gun registry, supported the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC (which allowed corporations and unions more political speech rights) and opposes state censorship of Confederate flags.

Is there a single American who doesn’t owe at least a GRUDGING “thank you” to the ACLU, whether it be for the Miranda rights of the accused, more humane treatment of mental illness or attempts to apply the brakes to a government surveillance state?

No one should automatically think of the ACLU as “the enemy,” because we never know when we might have to go running to them for help. (Running – and hopping over the sidewalk piles of excrement left by transient ACLU clients, but running nonetheless.) - More...
Thursday PM - January 30, 2020

jpg Political Cartoon: Coronavirus Groundhog

Political Cartoon: Coronavirus Groundhog
By Rick McKee ©2020, CagleCartoons.c
Distributed to paid subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.


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American Government By Hannah Ramiskey - I was shocked to hear that a Ketchikan School Board member has contacted administers and teachers of the school district to gauge their reaction to eliminating a semester of American Government in the district curriculum. Then students were asked how they felt about that and would they rather take subjects that were more interesting to them?

Wow, from the beginning of this country, our Republic has survived because it depends on educated voters to maintain our freedoms. Even in 1776 there were lots of newspapers and citizens reading the news to those who couldn’t.

No matter what side of any issue we are on, everyone should know what is in the Constitution and related documents to allow us to weed out that which is not accurate. And, with twenty-four- hour news on television and on line, someone has to fill the time – every second. Talking heads grab each story, true or false, to engage the public and an agitated public is great for ratings. It also makes for constant conflict as the nation becomes more divided. - More...
Thursday PM - January 30, 2020

jpg Opinion

First Week of Legislative Session By Rep. Dan Ortiz - The Alaska State Legislature began its 2020 session on January 21st. Last Friday, the Legislature held a joint session to vote on overriding two of Governor Dunleavy’s vetoes of House Bill 2001 from August of 2019. The Legislature had five days once we began session to address veto overrides. HB2001 was an appropriations bill created this summer to reverse some of the items that were vetoed from the original operating budget.

HB2001 included $5 million for AMHS, specifically to provide at least some service to areas like Cordova who have been - and will be - without service for months. HB2001 also included the full amount the state is obligated to pay for school bond debt reimbursement (the Governor vetoed 50% of the funding). The State pays 60-70% of school bond debt, which funds voter-approved construction projects or emergency needs. The remaining percentage is paid for by local municipalities. Governor Dunleavy’s veto of the State funded portion will not eliminate the need for funds, but simply transfer the burden to the local level. In Ketchikan, they will need to make up over $1.2 million in lost state funding and in Wrangell it amounts to a little under $87 thousand. When speaking on the Floor, Senator Stedman reminded the Legislative body that paying the promised reimbursement is, while not necessarily a legal requirement, a moral obligation. - More...
Thursday PM - January 30, 2020

jpg Opinion

Focusing on the Fundamentals By Colonel Bryan W. Barlow - I am not new to Alaska or to the Alaska State Troopers, having served more than 20 years in the ranks.  However I write today as the new Director for the Alaska State Troopers (AST), I want to introduce myself to Alaskans and take time to tell you what I want to accomplish while serving as Colonel for this great agency. Sports coaches often tell athletes of all ages that fancy plays aren’t what win games, its learning and mastering the fundamentals. I plan for AST to do just that: focus on our fundamentals. 

What does that mean? It means continuing to prioritize recruitment and retention of high quality state troopers, filling our support staff vacancies, developing employee wellness initiatives, and placing focus on in-service and advanced training.  

Under the Dunleavy Administration, the Department of Public Safety has received a lot of support designed to build this agency into the healthiest it’s been for quite some time. We need to keep this momentum up or risk losing valuable talent from both our civilian and our trooper ranks.  The goals of increasing the numbers of Troopers available to serve Alaska include decreasing the amount of time it takes for a Trooper to respond to a call for service, more active community engagement from our Troopers, and opening more Trooper posts in rural Alaska.  The Alaska State Troopers are, for all purposes, a rural police agency and my focus is on strengthening our agency to serve Alaskans all through this great state more effectively. - More...
Thursday PM - January 30, 2020

jpg Opinion

Alzheimer’s Association Alaska By Molly Pellegrom - Being a caregiver can be isolating. It can be even more difficult for Alaskans who are not on the road system.

You are not alone. Many Alaskans face the same challenges.

According to a survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control in cooperation with the State of Alaska, 33,000 Alaskans across our state provide care on a regular basis for loved ones with dementia.

Alzheimer’s Association Alaska is here to help all Alaskans affected by dementia. You don’t have to live on the road system to access our services. - More...
Thursday PM - January 30, 2020

jpg Opinion

I DID NOT KNOW THE RUSSIANS ARE OUR DEAREST FRIENDS??? By David G Hanger - I had a conversation a few days ago with a young friend of mine in his mid-30s who spent quite a bit of time explaining to me in detail how much the Russians are and have been our dearest friends. I am real curious what web sites, news sites, etc. are propagating these brilliant observations about our dear Russian friends that I may be informed and educated on the source of this drivel. - More...
Thursday PM - January 30, 2020

jpg Opinion

A Practice in Health By John Cross - Under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals are required to publish detailed financial reports. One report hospitals are required to release is called the: Schedule H Form. The Schedule H Form outlines how much money-losing care hospitals offer to their patients; hospitals refer to this number as their “charity care” (Internal Revenue Service, 2019). Hospitals, in exchange for receiving tax breaks at the State, Local, and Federal level, are expected to provide a reasonable amount of charity care (Government Accountability Office, 2018). The City of Ketchikan’s hospital lease with PeaceHealth expires in 2023. This paper will argue that the City of Ketchikan should examine PeaceHealth’s local and corporate practices before extending PeaceHealth’s hospital lease. - More...
Saturday PM - January 25, 2020

jpg Opinion

Cripple Iran's Strategic Weapons By Donald Moskowitz - In a New Hampshire Union Leader oped  Dr. Jessica Tuchman Mathews described why the Trump administration should continue the Iranian nuclear agreement. She delved into the value of the agreement and how the U.S. and the world were relatively safe from a nuclear attack by Iran for 15 years if the agreement remained in force. This was terrible thinking. - More...
Saturday PM - January 25, 2020

jpg Opinion

 AMHS Reshaping Draft Report By A. M. Johnson - Regarding the long awaited for report on the future status of the Alaska Marine Highway System, I first was furious at the content as I thought of the thousands of dollars spent on this result. - More...
Monday AM - January 20, 2020

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