Patrick Reevell/ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The landscape approaching Russia’s spaceport in Baikonur is otherworldly. The yellow steppe of southern Kazakhstan where it is located is effectively desert, unbroken flatlands for hundreds of miles covered by a layer of scrub. In December, the freezing winds that blow across it encase the scrub plants in ice, making them look like silver coral sprouting out of the sand.
Established at the dawn of the Cold War space race in the 1950s, Baikonur is Russia’s chief spaceport and, for now, the only launchpad in the world sending manned flights into space. Since NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011, Russia’s Soyuz rockets -- launched from Baikonur -- are the only option for astronauts headed to the International Space Station.
The latest Soyuz flight to the ISS took off from Baikonur this week with an American, Canadian and Russian on board. It was the first manned Soyuz mission since a mid-air accident during a launch in October temporarily grounded them.
That accident had been the first failed flight with a crew aboard a Soyuz since 1983, and it briefly turned global attention to Russia’s space program and the flights from Baikonur, which normally pass as routine.
Beyond this week's launch though, the aging Soviet-era spaceport tells the broader story of Russia’s space program and its troubled existence decades after its Cold War heyday.
When Soviet military engineers first arrived in 1957, they started building in empty desert. The construction teams, transferred to Kazakhstan after helping rebuild infrastructure in war-shattered Eastern Europe, slept in tents as they labored secretly to erect a rocket pad for the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile, the R-7.
In the 1960s, a planned city was built up to service the launch pads, eventually completed in typical Soviet style around a central square with a Vladimir Lenin statue. High rises, cinemas and cultural centers with names like "Saturn" and "Venus" were also laid out.
The Soviet Union’s greatest space feats would be launched from Baikonur, including Sputnik, the world’s first satellite that kicked off the space race, and Yuri Gagarin, the first man to leave Earth.
But the spaceport's fate was closely tied to the USSR and as the Soviet Union's economy rotted in its later years, Baikonur struggled and it was already falling into disrepair when communism collapsed in 1991. Baikonur suddenly found itself marooned in the newly independent Kazakhstan.
Frozen in the '80s
Russia and Kazakhstan’s new governments agreed that Moscow would rent Baikonur and in 2005, the lease was extended until 2050. The city is a closed territory and outsiders, including Kazakhs, need permission to enter. Russian law applies and the checkpoints at the roads into the city are guarded by Russian police.
Inside, the city of around 40,000 people seems partially frozen in the 1980s. Constructions sites for new apartment buildings on the Kazakhstan side in some places run right up to city limits, while on the spaceport side, most buildings have been barely renovated in decades. The chimneys of a heating station in the city center trail dirty, black smoke and the tower blocks painted with murals of rockets are cracked and some patched with wood.
"What feels most strange is that this town is still like the Soviet times," said Eduard Velikanov, a guide at the city’s state history museum.
Almost everyone in Baikonur works for the spaceport or provides services for those who do. Locals sometimes watch the rockets taking off from the launch pads about a dozen miles away, some climbing onto roofs for a better view.
Some residents believe the rockets alter the weather, saying winds blow from all directions for days after a launch. Kids at a local school recalled a 2013 crash of an unmanned rocket, saying the heat from the fire could be felt in the city and remembering a kerosene-like smell in the air.
The launch areas themselves are also strewn with relics and detritus of the Soviet space age. The launch pads have been modernized, but many of the buildings around them are crumbling.
At an observation point after a launch this week, punctured and rusted satellite dishes were set up as an outdoor museum with placards. It was difficult to discern which satellite dishes were exhibits and which ones were functioning until one of the hulking, rust-stained radar arrays suddenly began turning. It was tracking a Soyuz rocket, a guide explained.
Baikonur's crumbling condition mirrors deeper problems in Russia’s space industry, which has become plagued with allegations of colossal corruption and theft.
In June, Alexei Kudrin, the head of Russia’s Audit Chamber, told Parliament that the chamber had found 760 billion roubles (about $11.4 billion) in violations in the accounting of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, for 2017.
"Several billion have been spent, basically stolen," Kudrin said on the state channel Russia 24.
"Roscosmos is the champion in terms of the scale of such violations," he added.
In November, Russia’s Prosecutor General’s office said it had opened 16 criminal investigations into Roscosmos, whose quality control director was stabbed to death in a Moscow jail in 2017 as he awaited trial in another graft case.
The endemic corruption, low wages and loss of prestige has led to a brain drain at Russia’s space program, which in turn is struggling to maintain quality and develop new rockets.
At Baikonur’s International Space School, a high school that encourages children to find work in the space industry, a large poster in the corridor carried warnings about corruption, listing its different types and effects.
'Falling behind as a leading space power'
Under Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia has sought to revive some of its Soviet-era space glory. An ambitious new spaceport in Russia’s far east, called Vostochny, is under construction and is intended to partly replace Baikonur.
Vostochny has launched some unmanned rockets but has experienced serious delays amid repeated corruption and labor scandals. It is now behind schedule to take over launches from Baikonur.
These stumbling efforts have been overseen by Dmitry Rogozin, who heads Roscosmos. Rogozin is a sanctioned former deputy prime minister and nationalist politician who is a long-time Putin ally. Known for his pugilistic style and occasional anti-American outbursts, Rogozin has argued that bold long-term proposals are needed to pull Roscosmos out of its malaise.
Chief among those proposals is for Russia to establish a permanent base on the moon, which Rogozin in November pledged will happen, adding that the Russian cosmonauts would “check” whether America really had landed there in 1969. Last month, Roscosmos officials suggested that Russian astronauts would land on the moon by 2030 and that parts of the base could be brought there in the late 2020s.
In reality though, Russia’s rocket industry is struggling to keep up with the vehicles being developed by private companies, such as SpaceX and Boeing.
Corruption has eaten into its manufacturing and assembling processes, with a string of rocket failures linked to problems with parts. Following a 2016 crash of a Proton rocket, Roscosmos had to send back 70 engines for review over concern about faulty components. October’s accident was found to have been caused by a broken sensor damaged during assembly at Baikonur.
"Russia is certainly falling behind as a leading space power," said John Logsdon, a veteran expert on space policy at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. "Russia has been promising new systems for human spaceflight for years and have yet to deliver on those promises."
NASA’s reliance on Russia in space has caused some disquiet in the U.S., where critics have expressed fears it leaves the agency vulnerable to deteriorating U.S.-Russia relations.
The relationship has also been vulnerable to outbursts from Rogozin, who was sanctioned over his role in Russia's 2014 seizure of Crimea. This fall, Rogozin suggested, without evidence, that a hole found in a Russian module of the ISS could have been deliberately drilled by one of the astronauts aboard, a claim that NASA quickly knocked down.
A preliminary Roscosmos investigation found it had likely in fact been drilled on Earth during assembly, but the comment from Rogozin -- who has previously suggested Russia could unilaterally undock its modules from the ISS -- bemused NASA.
Shannon Walker, a NASA astronaut attending this week’s launch, said she had been surprised by the comments, but suggested NASA saw them as separate from the two space agencies' day-to-day cooperation.
"Obviously, we discounted it immediately because that makes no sense to us," Walker told ABC News, noting Rogozin's political background.
"He was deputy prime minister and so his view of Russian-American relations has perhaps come from that background," she said.
NASA praises the relationship in space as one of the few examples of cooperation left between U.S. and Russia. The U.S. agency currently pays around $80 million a seat on the Soyuz flights, distributing them to Canada, Japan and European countries that financially support the station.
But Baikonur’s monopoly on flights to the ISS is ending. From next year, NASA hopes to begin restarting its own manned launches from the U.S., using commercial rockets produced by SpaceX and Boeing. Both companies are due to hold test flights with empty spacecraft to the ISS by mid-2019 and to make crewed test flights before the end of the year.
Logsdon believes that the Soyuz will cease to be America's primary way to the space station within 12 to 18 months.
That shift will cut off a helpful revenue flow for Roscosmos. It means the number of manned flights from Baikonur will fall, likely from four per year to two. But NASA has said it will ensure American astronauts continue to fly from Baikonur for as long as the ISS is active, which means until at least 2024 and perhaps beyond.
Satellite launches, which make up the bulk of the flights from Baikonur, will continue. And with Russia’s alternate spaceport Vostochny struggling, residents in the town said they felt Baikonur's position is fairly secure for now.
Velikanov, the museum guide, said he felt Baikonur symbolized Russia in some ways.
"It is the way Russia lives nowadays: something very old and some new technologies," he said. "It is the clash of epochs."
omersukrugoksu/iStock(ROME) -- Six people are dead and at least 120 people are injured after being trampled by a panicked crowd running out of an Italian disco.
The stampede occurred at the Lanterna Azzurra in Madonna del Piano di Corinaldo, near Ancona -- a city on the Adriatic coast, east of Florence -- during a concert for Italian rapper Sfera Ebbasta.
Witnesses said that panic ensued when an acrid smell started permeating the disco between midnight and 1 a.m. local time, according to Italian news agencies. Some compared it to mace or pepper spray, though police officials said they were not ready to confirm those details.
The six people who died included five minors and an adult. The adult, identified only as Eleonora, had gone to the concert with her daughter, who survived, according to Italian news agency Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA), the nation's largest wire service.
All six who died were crushed by others who had fallen five feet off a walkway outside of one of the disco’s emergency exits, Ancona Police Chief Oreste Capocasa told ABC News.
Capocasa said that the railings on the walkway collapsed, causing concertgoers to fall.
Capocasa said that firefighters and magistrates were investigating whether there was overcrowding. The disco could only fit 870 people but 1,400 tickets to the concert were sold, he said.
He said that authorities are still trying to piece together the sequence of events, and whether the spraying of some sort of substance sparked the panic.
“We could not because after such a tragic event, witnesses weren’t in a fit state to remember well what happened," he said. "They have not confirmed that this happened but many have confirmed that something like that happened."
Those who were injured were taken to one of three hospitals in the area. Of the 120 injured, 12 remain in serious condition and seven are fighting for their lives, ANSA reported.
Italian Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini called the incident a "mix of irresponsibility and avidity.”
Two investigations have now been opened: one to determine who sprayed the pepper-like substance and another for overcapacity at the disco.
piola666/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A British sailor was rescued by a cargo ship on Friday, two days after an incident left her stranded in the Pacific Ocean.
Susie Goodall, 29, was competing in the Golden Globe competition -- a solo round-the-world race when her ships wind vane broke. A post on her website indicates that the boat pitched, sending her and the contents of the ship flying and knocking her unconscious.
Goodall suffered a minor head injury and spent hours removing debris to prevent further damage to the ship.
Chilean authorities coordinated a rescue effort, involving the Hong Kong-registered ship Tian Fu. That cargo vessel reached Goodall's DHL Starlight on Friday, which Goodall had to allow to drift with its sea anchor so the larger vessel could maneuver alongside.
Goodall was the only woman in the Golden Globe competition, and the youngest competitor.
"It was with a heavy heart Susie left DHL Starlight to fend for herself, before she fills with water and rests on the Pacific Ocean floor," a post from Goodall's family reads. "DHL Starlight has been her home for the past few years; a faithful friend who stood up valiantly to all the elements, a guardian until their last moments together."
Goodall tweeted from aboard Tian Fu, saying she was safe and given a hot drink.
ChiccoDodiFC/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The second-largest, second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history has spread to a major city.
Butembo, a bustling city of almost a million people in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, is reporting an increasing number of cases of Ebola virus disease in the country's current epidemic. There has been a "significant increase" in infections there over the past three weeks, with a total of 25 confirmed cases thus far, according to Thursday's bulletin from the country's health ministry.
Butembo is a key trading and transport hub with links to other major cities in the country as well as to neighboring Uganda. It's about two times the size of the city of Beni, the outbreak's epicenter, and is located just 35 miles away. The health ministry said the "high density and mobility" of Butembo's population presents new challenges to containment efforts, already complicated by sporadic rebel attacks on remote villages in and around Beni.
Since the outbreak was declared on Aug. 1, a total of 471 people have reported symptoms of hemorrhagic fever in the country's eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, which share borders with Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan. Among those cases, 423 have tested positive for Ebola virus disease, which causes an often-deadly type of hemorrhagic fever, according to the health ministry.
There have been 273 deaths thus far, including 225 people who died from confirmed cases of Ebola. The other deaths are from probable cases of Ebola, the ministry said.
The ongoing outbreak is one of the world's worst, second only to the 2014-2016 outbreak in multiple West African nations that infected 28,652 people and killed 11,325, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ebola is endemic to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is the 10th outbreak and the worst the country has seen since 1976, the year that scientists first identified the deadly virus near the eponymous Ebola River.
"No other epidemic in the world has been as complex as the one we are currently experiencing," the Democratic Republic of the Congo's health minister, Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga, said in a statement last month.
The World Health Organization received approval to administer an experimental Ebola vaccine, using a "ring vaccination" approach, around the epicenter of the current outbreak. More than 40,000 people, including health workers and children, have been vaccinated in the outbreak zone since Aug. 8, according to the country's health ministry.
The vaccine, which was developed by American pharmaceutical company Merck, has proved effective against the country's previous outbreak in the western province of Equateur.
The number of Ebola cases in the current outbreak would probably have already surpassed 10,000 if it weren't for the vaccination teams, the ministry said Thursday.
North Kivu and Ituri, where cases are being reported, are among the most populous provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They are also awash with violence and insecurity, particularly in the mineral-rich borderlands where militia activity has surged over the past year, all of which complicates the international response to the Ebola outbreak.
The security situation in the region has at times stymied the response efforts. Meanwhile, health workers are battling misinformation and mistrust from the local community, partly due to many years of conflict in the region.
There is a reluctance among some wary residents to seek care or allow health workers to vaccinate, conduct contact tracing and perform safe burials. That resistance has been expressed more violently than typically seen during previous Ebola outbreaks, according to the health ministry. A "fringe minority population" in these areas have destroyed medical equipment and health centers and have even attacked workers, the ministry said Thursday.
The epidemic is expected to last for "several" more months and the risk of spread will remain high until the outbreak is stomped out completely, according to the ministry.
Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images(PARIS) -- Protesters took to the streets of Paris for a third weekend of violence and looting despite French President Emmanuel Macron backing down on the fuel tax hike that sparked the movement in the first place.
Seemingly hoping to recreate the mayhem of last week, protesters again created fiery barricades in the streets and smashed store windows for looting.
But the protests were far smaller than last week’s demonstrations, as police sought to preempt any chaos by arresting protesters and confiscating dangerous objects before demonstrations began.
A total of 737 people had been arrested before or during the protests, police told ABC News, adding that 55 people — including three police officers — were also injured.
The protests, known as the Yellow Vest Movement, first began in mid-November to oppose rising fuel taxes, but have turned more broadly into a rebuke against the economic policies of Macron and the French ruling class, which many citizens view as elitist and indifferent to their struggles.
Macron announced on Wednesday that he was backing down from his proposed hike due to fears over the growing violence.
The fuel tax increases were Macron’s attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fulfill his country’s part in the Paris climate agreement by making it easier for cleaner sources of energy to compete.
President Donald Trump called it a sad day and night in Paris in a tweet on Saturday.
“Maybe it’s time to end the ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement and return money back to the people in the form of lower taxes?” Trump wrote, adding that the United States was way ahead of the curve in backing out of the deal.
NASA/Bill Ingalls/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Almost two months after NASA astronaut Nick Hague and his Russian counterpart Alexei Ovchinin survived a failed launch from Kazakhstan to the International Space Station, Hague told ABC News' David Kerley Friday he is ready to try again.
"I can tell you nothing has changed about my confidence in the ability of the Soyuz to operate effectively and protect the crew," the Kansas native and former Air Force fighter pilot said of his upcoming mission.
"I can tell you I'm ready to go."
On Feb. 28, Hague and Ovchinin will launch for a second time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, alongside NASA newcomer Christina Hammock Koch.
Only the Russian has been to the ISS before.
On Oct. 11, the rocket carrying Hague and Ovchinin failed less than two minutes after liftoff during a mission intended to dock at the ISS and then have them join an American, Russian and German on board.
The Soyuz booster malfunctioned in the second of its three stages before the capsule carrying the astronauts, as designed, detached from the rocket. The crew fell back to Earth as rescue teams scrambled to recover them.
The two men were quickly found in good condition and transported back to Baikonur.
The mishap appeared to threaten the Russian space program, as officials in the country briefly grounded all manned missions to space.
Hague, in an interview with ABC News on Friday, said he's focused on readying his team for the next launch and the 250 different experiments on their to-do list once they arrive at the International Space Station.
"We're up there because we're asking questions we don't know the answers to and hopefully the scientists can use the data we collect to get those answers," said Hague.
But what answers are they looking for?
"We're studying the gas exchange inside the lungs to try to help better understand how lungs work so that we can diagnose respiratory issues that help us not only on the ground but it also is important for when we start going back to the moon."
Hague, along with other astronauts, is effectively a guinea pig for how the human body interacts with space.
But why is he willing to take the risk after a dangerous failure just several weeks ago? He told ABC News it began with his childhood in Kansas.
"I was really young, you know, 5 or 6, looking up at the night sky in Kansas, staring at the stars and just wondering what was out there," Hague said.
"The sense of adventure, the sense of discovery, kind of the innate impulse to go and find new things."
He went on to the Air Force Academy, earned a master's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, became a test pilot for the F-16, F-15 and T-38 aircraft. He deployed to Iraq in 2004 before joining the Department of Astronautics faculty at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado. He also taught scuba.
After a stint in the Washington, D.C., area including work at the Pentagon, he was finally selected for the 21st NASA astronaut class.
He admits he's feeling some nerves ahead of the second attempt, but that won't deter him from his goals.
"If you're not nervous you wouldn't you wouldn't be human," Hague told ABC News.
"We accept that risk because what we're trying to do is so important that that mission of exploration and research on the space station is that important."
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech (NEW YORK) -- NASA's InSight lander, which landed on Mars just over one week ago, has transmitted back to Earth audio of the Martian winds, the first time humans have heard these "sounds."
On December 1, sensors on the lander "captured a haunting low rumble caused by vibrations from the wind," according to a news release from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at CalTech. The winds were estimated to be blowing between 10 and 15 mph at the time.
Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA's JPL called the audio "an unplanned treat."
"One of the things our mission is dedicated to is measuring motion on Mars," he added. "Naturally, that includes motion caused by sound waves."
Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(PARIS) -- Some of the most famous tourist sites in Paris plan to close on Saturday as the French capital braces for a violent day of protest for the third consecutive weekend.
The Eiffel Tower announced on its Twitter account that it will remain closed on Saturday "due to the demonstrations that will be taking place in Paris." The Eiffel Tower's operating company, SETE, said in a statement that it could not ensure the security of visitors.
In addition, French culture minster Franck Riester told French radio outlet RTL that other popular tourist sites, including the Louvre museum, the Orsay museum, the two Paris operas, and the Grand Palais, will all remain closed on Saturday.
"We cannot take the risk when we know the threat," Riester told RTL.
Saturday's protests are the latest part of the Yellow Jackets movement, named after the neon-yellow security vests demonstrators have been wearing and that motorists are required by law to have in their vehicles.
The nationwide protests started in small urban and rural areas of the country in response to a proposed fuel hike, and demonstrators have been blocking roads over the past three weeks. Since then, the protests have swelled in size and taken on the cost of living in France, high taxes in general and French President Emmanuel Macron's policies. The Yellow Jackets movement has no clear leader and has attracted groups of people with a wide variety of demands.
In anticipation of Saturday's protests, multiple stores and restaurants around the famous Champs Elysees Avenue will also remain closed. On Friday, workers were seen preparing and securing the area by barricading shop windows.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that 89,000 security forces will be mobilized on Saturday, with 8,000 policemen deployed in Paris alone, as well as a dozen armored vehicles.
During protests in Paris last Saturday, people threw projectiles at French security forces, burned dozens of cars, set up barricades and broke store windows and looted. It was one of the most violent protests France has seen in recent years.
TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images(ROME) -- The Vatican unveiled its novel Nativity scene for Christmas in St. Peter’s Square Friday afternoon -- sculpted completely out of sand for the first time.
The traditional scene depicting Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus surrounded by angels, shepherds, animals and the Three Wise Men was made with over 700 tons of sand and is about 82 square feet.
The large-scale sculpture was taken from Jesolo, a resort town near Venice. It was taken from an inland area -- more compactable than seaside sand -- and brought to the Vatican last month.
Three sand artists from Russia, Holland and the Czech Republic, working under the direction of Rich Varano, an American professional sand artist, sculpted the Nativity scene.
The artists worked on site for weeks behind a screen to prevent people from seeing the scene before it was finished.
Varano, who has been making sand sculptures for decades and spends a great part of his time working in Italy, had never been to Rome or the Vatican.
"It is a spectacularly wonderful experience, nothing like I could have ever done in 30 years of business, to be here surrounded by such a rich culture, history and the art from the masters," he said. "It's a very humbling and emotional experience."
The Nativity scene is by the obelisk at the center of St. Peter’s square next to the decorated large Christmas tree. It will have a canopy covering it to protect it from the rain and plastic curtains for use in case of bad winds and storms.
Pilgrims, tourists and Romans traditionally flock to the square during Christmas to see the Nativity scene. It will remain there until Jan. 7, after which the sand will be returned to where it came from.
Pope Francis, in thanking sponsors for the Christmas tree and the Nativity scene, said Friday that the sand is "a poor material, recalls the simplicity, the smallness with which God revealed himself with the birth of Jesus in the precariousness of Bethlehem."
The pope will visit and bless the Nativity scene on Dec. 31.
Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Giannetti/U.S. Marine Corps(WASHINGTON) -- The Marines have identified the F/A-18 fighter pilot killed in a mishap with a Marine Corps KC-30 refueling tanker off the coast of Japan, as the search continues for five Marines still missing.
Captain Jahmar F. Resilard, 28, of Miramar, Florida, was pronounced deceased after being found off the coast of Kochi, Japan, on Dec. 6. He served as an F/A-18 pilot with Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242, stationed on Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi, Japan.
"The Bats are deeply saddened by the loss of Captain Jahmar Resilard," said Lt. Col. James Compton, commanding officer of the Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242. "He was an effective and dedicated leader who cared for his Marines and fellow fighter pilots with passion. His warm and charismatic nature bound us together and we will miss him terribly. We honor his service and his contribution to the Marine Corps and our great nation. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends."
Resilard was one of two crew members found by Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces, which are leading search and rescue efforts with both surface ships and aircraft, said a spokesperson for III Marine Expeditionary Force in Japan. The first individual is described as in fair condition.
Almost 48 hours after the incident, search teams are still looking for the five personnel on board the KC-130.
"The aircraft involved in the mishap had launched from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and were conducting regularly scheduled training when the mishap occurred," according to a Marine Corps Base Camp Butler statement on Wednesday.
The incident occurred about 200 miles off the coast of Iwakuni at 2 a.m. on Thursday, or about noon Wednesday, Eastern Standard Time.
The circumstances of the mishap were under investigation and no other information was available, according to the statement.
The two Marines who were found in the water were both aboard the F/A-18. The fighter aircraft is equipped with ejection seats equipped with a locator beacon and with a raft that can help with survival at sea.
A defense official said neither of the Marines recovered at sea were found inside rafts. The first Marine recovered by the Japanese military had been in the ocean for about four hours, the second Marine had been in the ocean for about 10 hours.
The KC-130 tanker is not equipped with ejection seats for flight emergency, instead crew members would have to use parachutes to escape from the aircraft. For controlled landings at sea, KC-130's are equipped with rafts that would deploy and are equipped with a beacon.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump offered thoughts and prayers to the crew members and thanked Japan for their "immediate response and rescue efforts.
"Whatever you need, we are here for you," the tweet added.
My thoughts and prayers are with the @USMC crew members who were involved in a mid-air collision off the coast of Japan. Thank you to @USForcesJapan for their immediate response and rescue efforts. Whatever you need, we are here for you. @IIIMEF
The last major U.S. military aircraft incident occurred in May when an Air National Guard C-130 cargo plane crashed outside Savannah, killing all nine personnel on board. A recent investigation determined that crash was due in part to pilot error.
Late Wednesday, the Marines released the investigation into another deadly crash – a KC-130 that went down n Leflore County, Mississippi in August 2017, killing 15 Marines and 1 sailor on board.
It found that a propeller became dislodged and went into the aircraft's fuselage.
"The investigation determined that the aircraft's propeller did not receive proper depot-level maintenance during its last overhaul in September 2011, which missed corrosion that may have contributed to the propeller blade liberating in-flight," a press release from the Marines said.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration is moving ahead with plans for a second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un despite growing frustration among U.S. officials about the lack of progress on getting North Korea to denuclearize.
Nearly six months after their first meeting in Singapore, the scramble towards another sit-down is a sign of how far apart the two sides are, with the U.S. demanding North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons program entirely and take steps to do so before it wins sanctions relief, and North Korea continuing to develop those weapons systems, something it never explicitly promised to halt.
It's precisely because things are stalemated that Trump wants to sit down with Kim again, National Security Advisor John Bolton said this week, but that has undermined his administration's ability to negotiate with the North Koreans and get them to move towards denuclearization, according to several analysts.
"It totally cuts Secretary of State Pompeo and the Special Representative Steve Biegun at the knees," said Jung Pak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "What is the incentive for North Korea to actually talk about the meat and potatoes of denuclearization with the Special Representative and the Secretary of State if the National Security Advisor has said, 'Nothing's happening, so we have to go straight to the top'?"
Pompeo was supposed to meet with his counterpart, North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator and former spy chief Kim Yong Chol, in New York in November before North Korea canceled the trip at the last minute. His special representative for North Korea, Steve Biegun, who was tasked with leading working-level talks with North Korea, has yet to meet with North Koreans for his own meetings over three months after his appointment.
"They've clearly avoided having these working-level talks, which is where agreements are generally hammered out in advance of a summit," said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists. "The North Koreans calculated that they can come up with better deal from talking to the president directly."
Pompeo's meeting with Kim Yong Chol still has not been rescheduled, sources tell ABC News. But CIA Korea Mission Chief Andy Kim -- who has been Pompeo's right-hand man on this issue since Pompeo was CIA Director -- was reportedly at the Demilitarized Zone on Monday to meet with North Korean counterparts, according to South Korean media.
It's unclear who attended for North Korea or what the aim was, but the two sides are still trying to settle on a date and location for a second summit. Bolton said Thursday the administration expects it to take place in January or February.
"All this summitry and diplomacy will continue because it works for North Korea," said Sue Mi Terry, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "They're making progress without having to do anything on the denuclearization front... They're on their way of getting eventual international acceptance, North Korea, as a nuclear power, a responsible nuclear power."
While the U.S. has touted the talks and a lack of missile or nuclear tests as progress, North Korea has taken no steps to dismantle their existing nuclear weapons stockpiles -- something analysts point out they never promised to do.
Instead, they have destroyed a missile engine test site and a nuclear test site, although they have not admitted international inspectors to verify that. Pompeo said after a trip to Pyongyang in early October that would happen "as soon as we get it logistically worked out," but two months later, there's been no public progress.
In the months since the Singapore summit, North Korea has also expanded a key long-range missile base known to the U.S. and worked on construction at a nearby newly discovered missile facility, according to a new analysis of satellite images by the Middlebury Institute at Monterrey's James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
It's evidence that the regime continues to "mass-produce and deploy existing types of nuclear-armed missiles," according to the report's authors, Jeffrey Lewis and Dave Schmerler.
But it's not technically a violation of the declaration Trump and Kim signed at the Singapore summit because North Korea "never said it would" disarm, as Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tweeted Wednesday. Instead, they committed to the more vague term "denuclearization," just six months after Kim vowed to mass produce nuclear weapons in a New Year's Day speech -- a promise he is clearly keeping.
"If North Korea had made the decision to disarm, they would be behaving differently. They're perfectly capable of participating in working-level and presidential talks and demonstrating consistent, substantive progress," said Mount. "They are not doing that, which I think should tell the White House something about their intentions."
omersukrugoksu/iStock(MANILA, Philippines) -- An American priest has been arrested after being accused of sexually abusing multiple young boys while he was doing missionary work in the Philippines.
Now, U.S. authorities are calling for the public's help in determining whether or not he had any victims stateside.
Rev. Kenneth Hendricks is in custody of police authorities in Manila now, and is facing federal charges in Ohio where he maintains a residence.
Ben Glassman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, said that the case started when two Filipino boys reported alleged abuse to local authorities, prompting an investigation and subsequent accusations from other boys.
Glassman said that the accusers "told fairly similar stories."
"Each of these victims got to know Father Hendricks through the course of his official work as a priest... he befriended them, he would invite them to his residence, often to take a bath or shower. That interaction would proceed to kissing... fondle their genitals... [and] ultimately have oral or anal sex with the victims," Glassman said.
Steve Francis, the special agent in charge from U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, noted that five accusers are included in the affidavit but there are five others who have made claims against Hendricks that are being investigated currently.
"It's horrifying," Glassman said. "It is horrible, horrible abusive conduct. It is grooming children, young children who are interested in being involved in church activities and taking those kids and sexually abusing them."
Hendricks is currently in custody in the Philippines and it is unclear if he has legal representation. Glassman said that the details of a possible extradition to the U.S. are being worked out in conjunction with Filipino authorities.
The Archdiocese of Cincinnati stressed their distance from the priest, releasing a statement that notes that Hendricks "is not nor has ever been a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati."
"To the best of our knowledge, he was ordained to the priesthood in the Philippines to serve in a diocese there. He has never had any assignment with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati," the statement reads.
Mike Schafer, the director of communications for the archdiocese, noted that Hendricks was listed on the archdiocese's website as part of his missionary work.
"Like dozens of other missionaries from southwest Ohio, Father Hendricks did receive financial support from time to time from our missions office," Schafer said.
Glassman stressed that they were detailing the allegations against Hendricks in order to spread the word and see if there are any possible victims or witnesses in the U.S.
"We want to make sure if Father Hendricks committed sexual abuse of children here... that we can get them the proper treatment and counseling and we can hold him accountable," he said.
omersukrugoksu/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A U.S. citizen who had been held in Syria by the regime of Bashar al Assad for nearly three years was killed in its custody, according to a human rights group and the State Department.
Layla Shwekani, who was born and spent her early years in Damascus, but lived in the Chicago suburbs, was a "humanitarian activist," according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. She had returned to Syria in 2015 and was detained in February 2016 by regime forces.
"She was registered in civil registry department as dead in December 28, 2016, we believe she was executed in Saydnaya military prison in Damascus Suburbs governate," the group wrote in a newly released report.
Shwekani was born in 1990 and held a degree in information architecture from Arab International University in Daraa, Syria.
The report, released on Dec. 2, details 15 people killed by torture in Syria in November.
The State Department confirmed to ABC News that they're "aware of reports of the death of a U.S. citizen in Syrian regime custody," but they declined to comment further because of privacy.
Her local mosque in Willowbrook, Illinois, said they held a funeral prayer for her last Friday after the family recently found out she was killed, according to the local Chicago CBS affiliate, adding that her family declined to be interviewed.
The Syrian civil war has claimed more than 500,000 lives, according to monitoring groups. An additional 60,000 people have gone missing since the war began, according to the International Commission on Missing Persons.
The U.S. has accused Assad's regime of war crimes from torture and extrajudicial killings to the use of crematoriums and chemical weapons, but it no longer calls for his immediate removal. Instead, the Trump administration has expressed its desire that a political transition take place.
Releasing information has been a common practice by the Assad regime more recently -- as the war's battlefields quiet down, it has started to issue death notices for political prisoners it executed in an effort to resolve the cases of thousands of missing Syrians.
tupungato/iStock(KATOWICE, Poland) -- The U.N.’s 24th Climate Change Conference met this week in Katowice, Poland, with around 20,000 people from 190 countries aiming to negotiate ways to slow down climate change.
Participants may hold different views on how to enforce the non-binding U.N. Paris Climate Agreement -- a pledge by over 100 countries to reduce greenhouse emissions and limit global temperature increases -- but most agree that burning coal is the main contributing factor to global warming.
Ironically, the conference is being held in Katowice, the coal capital of Poland, which is itself the most coal-dependent country in Europe and among the most polluted.
On Tuesday morning, conference participants were entertained by a band made up of coal miners playing songs to celebrate the day of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of miners.
Nearly 90,000 Poles are employed in coal mining, and for decades they have enjoyed high wages and benefits, and the support of a political lobby.
“Coal is our black gold”, Polish President Andrzej Duda told the celebrating miners on Tuesday in front of several reporters. “Coal is the source of our social, economic and civilizational values,” he said, according to Polish media outlet TVP Info.
Duda addressed the climate conference later the same day.
“Climate policies cannot be implemented against societies,” Duda said, according to TVP Info. “Coal is the strategic resource of our country, we have supplies for the next 200 years, and it would be unreasonable to drop that. Coal is not contradictory to climate protection."
Environmentalists have been outraged with Duda, as they have been with the rhetoric coming out of the Trump administration. A part of the U.S delegation in Katowice is planning to set up a side-event promoting fossil fuels, repeating a strategy that has infuriated global-warming activists.
“Proportionally speaking, the U.S. is not as coal dependent as we are with over 80 percent of our energy being sourced from coal. But the propaganda effect is enormous,” Marek Jozefiak, climate and energy coordinator for Greenpeace Poland, told ABC News. “Many people here still think that what the U.S does is what’s right.”
He added that the U.S. promotion of coal as an energy source was “scandalous.”
A recent poll conducted by CBOS indicated that 72 percent of Poles disagree with coal-heavy national policies, and want it to abandon coal-sourced energy altogether.
“Only a few years back we had a national reverence for coal mining. Now it’s frowned upon,” Robert Kutz, a sociologist at the Krakow Academy of Economics, told ABC News. “Miners, coal mining -- it’s part of the culture. It was under communism, under the recent liberal government and now under right-wingers.”
According to Kutz, fear of social unrest always takes priority. The United Kingdom’s decision to close several of its coal mines in the 1980s, and the resulting unrest, looms large in Poland’s political imagination today.
“All know this has to be done,” said Kutz. “None have the guts."
Poland is currently enjoying a period of unprecedented economic growth, the highest in the European Union, and it also has the lowest unemployment rate.
That’s why Jozefiak thinks it’s now time to Poland to break away from its coal mining traditions.
“It’s now or never,” said Jozefiak, “I’m from a mining family, and know many miners realize their time is up. There are so many jobs out there now.”
Andrzej Kraszewski, the minister of environment under a previous Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, said that people in power have always known about the environmental consequences of coal dependence.
“Regardless of which political party rules, being in power is temporary," Kraszewski told ABC News. "Everyone wants to be re-elected. No one wants unrest. The goal is to hold on to power. You think in a 4-year perspective, not in global warming terms -- 40, 70 year[s] or more.”
The Katowice Conference is scheduled to run for another two weeks.
Charles J. Haymond/U.S. Air Force(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. military observation plane flew over Ukraine Thursday in direct response to Russia's "unprovoked attack" on Ukrainian Navy ships and sailors near the Kerch Strait last month, which the Defense Department described in a statement on Thursday as a "dangerous escalation in a pattern of increasingly provocative and threatening activity."
The flight of the U.S. Air Force OC-135 was the first "extraordinary" Open Skies Treaty flight since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, DOD spokesperson Eric Pahon told ABC News.
Thirty-four nations are party to the treaty which allows them to gather aerial imagery and conduct surveillance on the military forces and activities of other nations. The treaty "promotes openness and transparency in military activities through reciprocal, unarmed observation flights," Pahon said.
But Thursday's "extraordinary" flight was conducted outside the previously agreed number of flights for the year, requested under the treaty by the Arms Control Directorate of the Ukrainian General Staff, according to Pahon.
DOD would not comment on whether the OC-135's flight path crossed over Crimea.
"The United States seeks a better relationship with Russia, but this cannot happen while its unlawful and destabilizing actions continue in Ukraine and elsewhere," the DOD statement read.
Observers from the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Romania, and Ukraine were aboard the flight, which departed from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Nov. 30, traveling to Ramstein Air Base in Germany before flying over Ukraine.
There were 25 U.S. military personnel taking part in the flight, including a 17-person crew from the 55th Wing out of Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska and eight personnel from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).
Past use of the Open Skies Treaty
In August 2017, a Russian reconnaissance jet flew over several government buildings and landmarks in Washington, D.C. -- including the Pentagon, Capitol, National Mall, White House, and Central Intelligence Agency -- under the Open Skies Treaty.
"They come here just like we go there," a U.S. official told ABC News at the time. "It's a mutually agreed process."
Russian Open Skies flights in the U.S. are coordinated with the Federal Aviation Administration and carry U.S. Air Force personnel who serve as escorts.
DTRA has pointed to valuable information gained from the Open Skies flights, including unclassified imagery gathered in March 2014 during a German-U.S. flight over Russia's border with Ukraine that helped prove Russian military activities in eastern Ukraine despite Moscow's denials.
Per stipulation in the treaty, visiting aircraft are allowed to use specific wet film equipment or digital sensors to take aerial surveillance photos that are later shared with the host nation.
Rising tensions with Russia
News of the Open Skies flight comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow on a range of issues.
A U.S. Navy destroyer sailed through waters claimed by Russia in the Sea of Japan on Wednesday, challenging Moscow's ownership of the area for the first time since the end of the Cold War. The guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell traversed through part of Peter the Great Bay in what the U.S. refers to as a "freedom of navigation operation," according to the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet.
In a statement on Thursday, Russia's defense ministry mocked the passage, claiming the ship never entered waters claimed by Russia and expressing "puzzlement at the rhetorical feat of the representatives of the U.S. Navy."
Earlier this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. would pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 60 days should Russia fail to return to compliance. Russian President Vladimir Putin responded, saying that if the U.S. were to exit the treaty and build such missiles that Moscow would follow suit.