In Washington Safety board calls for video recorders in...

NATIONAL DIGEST

April 12, 2000

In Washington

Safety board calls for video recorders in commercial aircraft

The National Transportation Safety Board called yesterday for cockpit video recorders in all commercial planes, saying many recent accidents could have been solved more quickly with the devices.

"The safety board is today recommending the Federal Aviation Administration require [commercial aircraft] ... be equipped with a crash-protected cockpit image recording system," safety board Chairman Jim Hall told a congressional hearing.

The proposal faced opposition from a major pilots union, which said privacy protections for existing cockpit voice recordings were inadequate. But Hall said video recording would advance safety and was technologically and economically feasible, possibly saving millions of dollars and thousands of hours of investigation.

China close to lending 2 pandas to National Zoo

The National Zoo is close to filling its empty Panda Rouse with two giant pandas from China.

Lawrence M. Small, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, said yesterday that the zoo's deputy director has signed a letter of intent with the China Wildlife Conservation Association for a long-term loan of the pandas.

Small said thc zoo will pay the association $1 million a year for 10 years. The zoo has also agreed to pay an additional one-time amount to China for each cub the pair produces. China will still own the pandas and any offspring. Zoo officials will go back to China before August to continue negotiations on a final agreement.

Crane returns to House after alcoholism treatment

Illinois Rep. Philip M. Crane, returning to his congressional duties after completing a 21-day treatment program for alcoholism, received warm applause yesterday from colleagues on the House floor.

Crane, 69, the most senior House Republican and a former presidential candidate, declared that he is back and "in good health."

"I feel better, mentally and physically," said Crane, a 16-term congressman from Chicago's northwest suburbs who announced last month that he was taking a leave of absence to enter a treatment program. "I look forward to the hard work.... This has been a deeply humbling experience for me."

House 0Ks permanent plan for visa-free entry to U.S.

Tourists and business people from 29 foreign countries that allow Americans visa-free entry will not need visitors' visas in the United States under legislation passed yesterday by the House.

The bill, passed by voice vote, would make permanent a pilot program under way since 1986 among the United States and the other countries, mostly European. The Immigration and Naturalization Service says 17 million travelers used the program in 1998, and the travel and tourism industry has sought to make it permanent.

Participating countries must extend visa-free entry privileges to U.S. citizens, have a nonimmigrant visa refusal rate of less than 3 percent and commit to fully developing a machine-readable passport by 2006.

In the Nation

Wounded school teacher shot herself, officials say

TUCSON, Ariz. -- A school-teacher who reported being shot in her classroom confessed to authorities that she shot herself.

Kathy Morris told authorities that she did it to highlight thc lack of security at La Cima Middle School, Pima County sheriffs spokeswoman Deanna Coultas said yesterday.

Morris reported Monday that she had been shot in her classroom by a young Hispanic man after excusing herself from a staff meeting. The shooting occurred about 99 minutes before students were scheduled to begin class.

Retired drug agent leaves trial, commits suicide

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A retired federal drug agent accused of taking part in a smuggling ring left his trial, drove to Interstate 75 and committed suicide by stepping into the path of a tractor-trailer.

Stephen Michael Swanson's trial had reached closing arguments when he borrowed a van during a lunch break yesterday and drove off.

The 17-year Drug Enforcement Administration agent faced 10 years to life in federal prison if found guilty, and his lawyer suggested that he killed himself out of concern for his cancer-stricken wife. If convicted, Swanson would have lost medical benefits she needed.

Pupil's five-day suspension for rude rhyme trimmed

MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- A sixth-grader suspended for reciting a naughty rhyme to two girls on the playground returned to school yesterday after his punishment was cut from five days to three.

The 11 year-old was punished last week for saying: "Roses are red, violets are black, your chest is as flat as your back." The boy's parents offered to have him apologize, but school officials said he had violated sexual harassment guidelines. Lawyers for the boy's family and the school district agreed to his reinstatement.

New study said to confirm danger of soot particles

ATLANTA -- New research confirms a controversial finding that linked soot particles to premature death and increased hospitalizations, the American Lung Association said yesterday.

The association said the new research gives substantial additional scientific backing to a 1997 decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to set tougher cleanair standards for fine particle soot from sources including diesel trucks, other big diesel engines, diesel fuel and coal-fired power plants.

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