Friday, April 6, 2012

Published:

2 Navy pilots eject from jet and send fighter careening into apartments, destroying buildings

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) -- A fighter jet that malfunctioned just after takeoff hurtled into a Virginia Beach apartment complex on Friday in a spectacular crash that sent flames and black smoke billowing from the rubble.

The two pilots managed to eject just before impact, suffering minor injuries along with five others on the ground. Several residents described hearing a loud explosion and looking out their windows to see the red and orange blaze. In the confusion that followed, two men helped one of the bloodied pilots from the two-seat F18 Hornet move to safety.

"Oh, my God, I heard three really loud explosions, then the black smoke went up high in the sky," said 71-year-old Felissa Ezell, who lives in a townhouse near the crash site.

By evening, emergency crews were searching through the charred remains of the complex, where some 40 apartment units were damaged or destroyed. No fatalities had been reported.

Seven people, including the pilots from nearby Naval Air Station Oceana, were taken to a hospital. All except one of the pilots were released by late afternoon.

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US job market takes a break after best hiring binge since Great Recession; jobless rate falls

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. job market took a breather in March after its best hiring stretch since the Great Recession.

Employers added 120,000 jobs last month -- half the December-February pace and well short of the 210,000 economists were expecting. The unemployment rate fell from 8.3 percent in February to 8.2 percent, the lowest since January 2009, but that was largely because many Americans stopped looking for work.

Still, few economists expect hiring to fizzle in spring and summer, as it did the past two years. And they blamed seasonal factors for much of Friday's disappointing report from the Labor Department.

"We don't think this is the start of another spring dip in labor market conditions," said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist with Capital Economics.

The report was also closely watched in political circles. If employers retreat on hiring, consumers could lose confidence in the economy and potentially dim President Barack Obama's re-election hopes.

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Plus or minus? Jobs report leaves Obama, Romney campaigns unsure where vital issue is headed

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's steady-but-modest job growth presents political challenges for both of November's all-but-certain presidential rivals.

Republican Mitt Romney needs an ailing economy to fully exploit his image as a "Mr. Fix-It" who can restore the nation's financial health, as he turned around the troubled 2002 Winter Olympics. President Barack Obama needs job-creation momentum to persuade voters that things are moving in the right direction, even if millions of people remain unemployed.

Friday's neither-hot-nor-cold jobs report leaves both campaigns unsure of whether they can sell their narratives. Employers added 120,000 jobs last month, about half the December-February pace and well short of the 210,000 economists were expecting. Still, the unemployment rate declined from 8.3 percent in February to 8.2 percent, the lowest since about the time Obama took office.

GOP leaders were quick to note that the rate dropped largely because many Americans stopped looking for work and were not counted in the government survey.

The U.S. jobs picture was bleaker when Romney began his second presidential bid a year ago, emphasizing his experience in running the Olympic games and reorganizing companies while at Bain Capital. He said jobs grew during his four years as Massachusetts governor, but critics note that other states had more robust growth.

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Syrian refugees describe mass graves, massacres after fleeing violence ahead of truce

REYHANLI, Turkey (AP) -- After days of relentless shelling and sniper attacks, thousands of Syrian refugees streamed across the border into Turkey with horrific accounts Friday of mass graves, massacres and burned-out homes.

The latest reports of escalating violence fueled accusations that President Bashar Assad is rushing to stamp out as much of the year-old uprising as he can before a U.N.-brokered cease-fire next week.

The trigger for the new waves of refugees was an offensive in Idlib province, which borders Turkey and has become increasingly rebellious against the Assad regime.

Activists reported about 100 dead in the villages of Taftanaz and Killi in recent days.

A photograph provided to The Associated Press by a Syrian activist showed at least a dozen corpses wrapped in blankets in what appeared to be a mass grave in Taftanaz. The AP could not verify the authenticity of the photograph, but witnesses also described a mass grave.

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Mali attracts Islamist fighters, al-Qaida, in void left by coup, rebellion

NIAMEY, Niger (AP) -- Al-Qaida militants and other Islamist fighters are descending on northern Mali in the chaotic aftermath of a military coup, creating a potential haven for terrorists in a part of the Sahara bristling with heavy weapons looted from Libya.

Tuareg rebels declared an independent state in the region on Friday amid a power vacuum in the north created by the president's March 21 ouster. The rapidly unfolding events are turning the area, which the Tuaregs now call the Azawad nation, into a magnet for jihadists, much like Afghanistan was when the Taliban took power 15 years ago.

Witnesses in northern Mali and those who have fled to neighboring Niger say they have seen fighters from Algeria, Mauritania and Nigeria in the past week.

In the late 1990s, terrorism training camps were set up in Afghanistan, where al-Qaida was able to operate openly and plot attacks largely unhindered. Now experts warn that Mali, a vast and impoverished Saharan nation in northwest Africa, could play a similar role.

Witnesses in the northern city of Gao, which fell to rebels on March 31, said fighters include people speaking a Mauritanian dialect of Arabic and English. The English-speakers are Nigerians who are believed to belong to the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram, which bombed the U.N. headquarters in Nigeria's capital last year, killing 25 people.

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Winners of big lottery jackpots often prize anonymity amid challenges of instant riches

RED BUD, Ill. (AP) -- The tiny Illinois farm town of Red Bud is the kind of place with few strangers and few secrets. Yet the community of 3,700 has a lingering mystery on its hands: Who bought the winning Mega Millions lottery ticket, and why hasn't the winner of the world-record $656 million jackpot come forward?

Though secrecy surrounds the ticket sold at the MotoMart convenience store, lottery officials note it's not unusual for winners to lay low -- and those who advise them say it's just plain smart.

It's exactly what the Kansas winner of the March 30 Mega Millions drawing decided to do. Kansas Lottery Director Dennis Wilson said the person came to the agency's Topeka headquarters Friday morning with an attorney and some financial advisers. Wilson said the person does not want to be identified, even by gender -- something Kansas law allows.

"They obviously don't need the publicity," Wilson said. "They're not used to the publicity of where they're from, where they live."

A third winning ticket was sold in Maryland, and questions fester about a woman claiming to have it.

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AP Photos: Christians around the world observe Good Friday with reenactments, solemn prayers

Around the world, Christians commemorated Good Friday with solemn observances, both large and small. In Jerusalem, a procession wound through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed to be the burial site of Jesus. Volunteers dressed as Roman centurions drove nails through the palms of Catholic devotees in the Philippines, in a reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ. Hundreds of processions took place in Spain during Easter Week, including one in Valencia where worshippers flocked to the icon of the Santisimo Cristo de Salvador Friday to pray for those who died in the sea.

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Police: CA ex-teacher who flaunted romance with student arrested for sex abuse of another girl

MODESTO, Calif. (AP) -- A former California teacher who made national headlines when he left his job and family to move in with an 18-year-old student was arrested Friday on suspicion of sexually abusing a different student more than a decade ago, police said.

Christopher Hooker, 41, was arrested at his home and booked in Stanislaus County Jail on one count of oral copulation with a minor.

Police said the abuse occurred with a 17-year-old girl in 1998 when Hooker was a teacher at Davis High School in Modesto. The girl was a student at a different school, police said.

In a statement, police said Hooker befriended the 17-year-old. The department did not immediately return a call seeking clarification of how the two met.

Hooker appeared in court Friday. A judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf, set his bail at $50,000 and assigned him a public defender, the Modesto Bee reported (http://bit.ly/HooJV2).

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Petrino didn't want 911 call after crash; got lift to hospital from personal security

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- Moments after their motorcycle accident, Bobby Petrino and a female employee told a passer-by not to call 911, then got a ride back to Fayetteville where the Arkansas football coach was met by a state trooper who provides his personal security during the season.

New details of the immediate aftermath of Petrino's crash were in a 911 call released Friday by the state police. The passer-by, Larry Hendren, describes coming upon the accident scene Sunday evening just after Petrino and Jessica Dorrell "were getting up out of the ditch." He said Petrino was "walking, but it looked like his face was bleeding quite a lot."

"The rider and the passenger of the motorcycle declined us to call 911," Hendren told a dispatcher. "They got into a vehicle and headed toward the hospital."

Petrino was taken to a Fayetteville intersection by another passer-by. There, Dorrell left in her own car while Petrino was met by Capt. Lance King, his personal security guard during the season. King took Petrino to a hospital, where he was treated for broken ribs and a cracked neck vertebra.

State police said Friday they planned to question the trooper, looking for "any information Captain King may have learned about the crash" during conversations with Petrino.

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A Masters for the ages: 52-year-old Couples leads, McIlroy lingers, Woods struggles

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- All signs pointed to this being a Masters for the ages.

This wasn't what anyone had in mind -- 52-year-old Fred Couples, silver hair and still cool as ever, drawing the loudest cheers Friday on his way to becoming the oldest player atop the leaderboard going into the weekend at Augusta National.

"Very shocking, and it was a great day," Couples said after a 5-under 67, which gave him a share of the lead with Jason Dufner. "There was a lot going on there, and for me to be a part of it, it's really amazing."

The buzz going into the Masters was built around all the best players on top of their games, and that element was very much in place. Rory McIlroy charged up the leaderboard. Lee Westwood is right there. So is Sergio Garcia and even Phil Mickelson.

Missing from the mix -- another surprise -- was club-kicking Tiger Woods.