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MOBILE BAY, Alabama (BNO NEWS) — A United States Coast Guard (USCG) helicopter crashed in Mobile Bay in Alabama on Tuesday evening, officials said on Wednesday. At least one crew member was killed while three others remain missing.

The accident happened at approximately 7:40 p.m. local time when a Coast Guard MH-65C helicopter crashed approximately 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) from the shore in Mobile Bay, a Gulf of Mexico inlet which is located in the state of Alabama. Four people were on board.

Soon after the accident, one of the crew members was found unresponsive by the crew of a 26-foot (7.9-meters) Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Boat. The crew member, whose identity was not immediately released, was later declared deceased. Searches for the three other crew members were continuing on Wednesday.

“CG-6535 was flown by a four-person crew and was conducting training operations,” said Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert Papp. “A full Coast Guard and interagency search and rescue effort was launched – the aircraft was quickly located. One deceased crew member was recovered, and extensive efforts continue to locate the other three crew members.”

At least three aircraft and half a dozen boats are involved in the search effort, as well as Good Samaritan vessels. Authorities have remained hopeful as the crew members were equipped with survival gear, but chances of finding survivors were diminishing quickly on late Wednesday.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the crew members during this difficult time,” said Captain Don Rose, commander of Coast Guard Sector Mobile. “We are working through the night to continue to conduct a robust search for the three crew members who are still missing and we appreciate the assistance of all of the agencies and personnel who are volunteering their time and resources to assist with the search and rescue efforts.”

The cause of the accident was not immediately known, but Papp promised a detailed investigation. “We will conduct a full investigation into this incident to determine the cause,” he said in an e-mail.

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LIMA, PERU (BNO NEWS) — Dutchman Joran Van der Sloot was sentenced to 28 years in prison on Friday for the murder of a young woman he met at a casino in Peru, prosecutors said. Van der Sloot is also a suspect in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway.

Van der Sloot, 24, appeared in court wearing a green T-shirt. During the lengthy reading of the verdict, taking more than two hours as an interpreter translated it to Dutch, he appeared to be nervous, confused, sweating and in disbelief as he wiped out some tears.

The Dutchman is also a suspect in the disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway, who went missing on May 30, 2005, during a high school graduation trip to Aruba. Despite international media attention, her body was never found and a court in Alabama ruled her legally dead on Thursday.

Exactly 5 years after Holloway’s disappearance, on May 30, 2010, Van der Sloot took 21-year-old Peruvian woman Stephany Tatiana Flores to his hotel room in Lima after meeting her at a local casino. She was found dead there several days later after being strangled to death, and Van der Sloot was eventually arrested in Chile and deported to Peru to face trial.

The court in Peru sentenced Van der Sloot to 28 years in prison and ordered his deportation after he completes his prison time on June 10, 2038. He was also ordered to pay a 200,000 soles ($74,200) fine, which will be paid to Flores’ family.

Van der Sloot earlier pled guilty to killing Flores after she apparently looked at his laptop and found out he was linked to the disappearance of Holloway. Although Van der Sloot said he was sorry for what happened, the three judges did not believe his apology was sincere.

Van der Sloot’s lawyer, Jose Luis Jimenez, said they would appeal the sentence.

After Van der Sloot is released in 2038, he could face deportation to the United States where a warrant for his arrest was issued in 2010 after he allegedly tried to extort $250,000 from Natalee Holloway’s mother in exchange for the location of her remains and the circumstances surrounding her death.

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DEMOPOLIS, ALABAMA (BNO NEWS) — Five children as young as two were among a family of seven who were killed on Saturday evening when their small plane crashed near a local airport in western Alabama, the local coroner confirmed on Sunday.

The accident happened at around 6.34 p.m. local time on Saturday near Demopolis Municipal Airport in Demopolis, a city in Marengo County. The eight-seat Cessna 421C aircraft was flying from the city of Gadsden in Alabama to Shreveport, Louisiana.

“[The aircraft] declared an emergency and diverted to Demopolis Municipal Airport after losing its right engine. The plane crashed within about two miles (3.2 kilometers) of the airport,” said Holly Baker, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). “Seven people were on board.”

Despite having crashed close to the airport, Baker said the downed aircraft was not found until about 2.17 a.m. local time on Sunday. Marengo County Coroner Stuart Eatmon arrived at the scene at around 9 a.m. local time, and it took several hours to recover the victims from the wreckage.

“I went out in the field at about nine o’clock and we carried them all to the forensics lab at around three o’clock,” Eatmon said, confirming that all seven people on board were killed. “We had to lift the plane [which was] completely burned up.”

The coroner said the seven victims were burned beyond recognition. “I’m going to say the five kids might have been from eleven to about 2.5 to three [years old], because I got a little girl [aged] 2.5 to three. It was small bodies up to a ten or eleven year old child.”

According to federal records, the 1978-built aircraft was registered to Advanced Integrated Technology Solutions, LLC in Niceville, Florida. No one answered the phone number provided at the company’s website, which said the company provides custom software and hardware solutions.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will investigate the cause of Saturday’s accident, which is the deadliest plane crash in the United States so far this year. In March, five people were killed when a small plane crashed at Long Beach Airport in California.

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MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA (BNO NEWS) — Alabama Governor Robert Bentley will soon sign a bill that bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, his press secretary said on Tuesday. It follows similar restrictions introduced in a number of other states.

The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, and Alabama state laws currently allow abortion up to the stage of fetal viability, which is usually between 24 and 26 weeks gestation. The new bill will restrict abortions beginning on the first day of the 20th week of pregnancy.

“Governor Bentley is reviewing that bill along with all of the bills that passed the Legislature on the last day of the session,” said Jennifer Ardis when asked if Bentley would sign the bill. “He will sign this bill but has not as of today,” she added.

The abortion bill, which makes no exceptions for cases of rape and incest, was passed by lawmakers on Thursday during the final day of the session. It makes it a felony to perform an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, unless the woman is at risk of death or serious physical harm as a result of the pregnancy.

The ‘Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act’, which passed the Alabama legislature less than 30 minutes before the midnight deadline, will also require abortion providers to keep more extensive records on the number and type of abortions they have performed.

“Modern medical science furnishes us with compelling evidence that unborn children recoil from painful stimuli, that their stress hormones increase when they are subjected to any painful stimuli, and that they require anesthesia for fetal surgery,” said Mary Spaulding Balch, director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). “Therefore, the states have a compelling interest in protecting unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion.”

Idaho, Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma have passed similar restrictions earlier this year. Nebraska also passed a new law last year that put more restrictions on abortions.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — The death toll as a result of the violent tornado outbreak that devastated Alabama and other Southern U.S. states this week has risen to at least 329, officials said on late Friday.

The tornadoes and other severe weather has destroyed or seriously damaged thousands of houses, most notably in Alabama where 238 people were killed and 1,730 others were injured. At least six people are listed as missing in Alabama, but fears are the death toll will continue to rise further.

Officials have also confirmed 33 fatalities and 150 injured in Mississippi, 34 fatalities and 107 injured in Tennessee, 15 fatalities in Georgia, 8 fatalities in Virginia, and 1 fatality in Kentucky.

The National Weather Service (NWS) also confirmed on Friday that one of the tornadoes that struck Monroe County in Mississippi was an extremely rare EF-5 tornado, the highest rating.

“After a review of the damage photos taken during Thursday’s ground survey and consultation with national experts, the National Weather Service in Memphis has upgraded the Smithville tornado rating to EF-5 damage,” the NWS in Memphis said in a statement. “This is the highest rating for tornado damage and the first EF-5 or F-5 in Mississippi since the Candlestick Park tornado near Jackson on March 3rd, 1966.”

The tornado in Monroe County, near Smithville, had an estimated peak wind of 205 miles (330 kilometers) per hour and a path length of 2.82 miles (4.5 kilometers). It was at one point at least half a mile (804 meters) width. It left 14 people killed, 40 injured, and destroyed scores of buildings.

As a result of the catastrophic damage, Obama signed a disaster declaration for Alabama on Thursday, ordering federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.

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MONROEVILLE, ALABAMA (BNO NEWS) — A Dutch instructor pilot was killed on Thursday afternoon when the Apache helicopter he was flying crashed in the U.S. state of Alabama, officials said.

The accident happened at around noon local time when the Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopter went down in the vicinity of Monroeville, a city in Monroe County. It was carrying an instructor pilot and a student, both whom are Dutch citizens.

The instructor pilot was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, while the student pilot escaped without injuries. They were on a routine training flight.

A statement from the Dutch Ministry of Defense identified the pilot as Captain Van de Perre. “Our thoughts are with his wife, parents, family, and other relatives and colleagues,” said Jac Jansen, Commander of the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

The helicopter was coming from Fort Rucker, an American base which is being used by service members of the Dutch Air Force to be trained to become a helicopter pilot.

The cause of the accident is being investigated.

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WASHINGTON D.C. (BNO NEWS) — U.S. authorities on Thursday informed that the tornadoes and severe storms that struck southern territories, most heavily in Alabama, have left around 200 dead.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) informed that the extreme weather that have ripped through the region will continue to impact the southern states of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia.

This day, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) confirmed that 128 weather-related deaths have been registered. The most affected counties are DeKalb, Franklin, Jefferson and Tuscaloosa which sustained extensive damage.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley declared a State of Emergency for all Alabama counties as more severe weather is expected in the coming days. With this action, Bentley authorized AEMA and other state agencies to assist communities, make the appropriate assessments of damage.

“The severe weather outbreak two weeks ago is still fresh on our minds and is a reminder that we must take the threat of severe weather seriously,” said Governor Bentley. “I urge Alabamians to do the same and heed weather warnings to protect their families, homes and businesses.”

In addition, Bentley mobilized approximately 1,400 Alabama National Guardsmen to provide emergency assistance to the affected counties. The guardsmen will be on the ground on early Thursday morning to help with search and rescue operations, logistical coordination of debris removal.

U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his deepest condolences to the families of the victims in Alabama and the southeastern regions. “While we may not know the extent of the damage for days, we will continue to monitor these severe storms across the country and stand ready to continue to help all citizens affected by these storms.”

In Tennessee, the State Emergency Operations Center in Nashville informed that 30 deaths have been reported from the storms and flooding until Wednesday. Georgia Governor Bob McDonnell said that eight people have been killed in the state.

Furthermore, McDonnell declared a state of emergency in response to severe weather so that state resources can be made available. Seven fatalities were confirmed in Washington County and one in Halifax County.

President Obama authorized FEMA on Wednesday to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the extreme weather on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures.

FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures.

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ORANJESTAD, ARUBA (BNO NEWS) — Dutch prosecutors on Tuesday afternoon concluded that a jawbone found on a beach in Aruba does not belong to long-missing teen Natalee Holloway.

At the request of the Aruban Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) conducted forensic anthropological and DNA investigations on bone material, a piece of jawbone with a tooth, both investigations executed simultaneously, the Prosecutor’s Office said.

“Detailed examination by the NFI excludes the possibility that the bone material found in Aruba is that of Natalee Holloway,” prosecutors stated.

After “using the dental records of Natalee Holloway, such as the location of wisdom teeth and fillings, a comparison was made with the jaw bone recovered on Aruba. Based on these comparisons it could be excluded that the investigated bone material and molar came from Natalee Holloway,” officials said.

The NFI also initiated a forensic DNA investigation, but it was stopped when experts determined, based on dental records, that the jawbone does not belong the Holloway.

“The Office of the Public Prosecutor in Aruba has decided not yet to carry out further research on the material. The prosecution will decide what further action will be taken to identify the bone material.”

Holloway, an 18-year-old student from Mountain Brook, Alabama, disappeared on May 30, 2005 during her high school graduation trip to the island.

She was last seen by classmates outside a restaurant with Joran van der Sloot and brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe.

Van der Sloot currently is being held in Lima in connection with the killing of Peruvian woman Stephany Flores, and still remains the prime suspect in the Holloway disappearance.

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HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA (BNO NEWS) – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Tuesday announced the contract extension by one year for the services provided by Jacobs Technology Inc.

The contract extension has a maximum potential value of $170 million, which brings the total potential value of the contract to $962.5 million. The original contract was awarded in October 2005.

Jacobs Technology currently provides a wide range of engineering, technical, science, propulsion, program management and business services to the NASA’s Marshal Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

The Tennessee-based company will furnish all resources, including management, personnel, equipment and supplies, unless specific exceptions are made by the government. The new contract will expire on September 30, 2011.

Jacobs Technology is the advanced technology division of Jacobs Engineering, one of the nation’s largest engineering and technical services-only companies with over 70 years of experience supporting government and commercial clients.

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HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA (BNO NEWS) – A Florence, Alabama man on Wednesday was convicted for coercing a 15-year-old girl into prostitution, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Birmingham announced.

Manuel Enrique Zelaya Rodriguez, 31, was convicted after a two-day trial of coercing a minor to engage in prostitution, harboring and illegal alien, and failing to file a report with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about an illegal alien and her employment.

Zelaya, also known as “Mecanico,” housed a 15-year-old alien in Lauderdale County. He eventually forced her to engage in commercial sex acts between August 25 and September 9, 2009.

Florence Police Department received may complaints of prostitution near a trailer park. Police officers arrested Zelaya after a traffic stop led to the confession of the minor girl that the defendant had been prostituting her in the trailer park area.

“We have shut down this particular trafficker and, hopefully, given pause to others who would commit the same morally reprehensible crime. We want zero-tolerance policy on this crime,” a prosecutor said.

Zelaya is currently awaiting sentencing and faces a minimum 10-year prison term and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

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