The Baltimore Sun

Train engineer texted before deadly collision

LOS ANGELES: A Metrolink engineer sent a text message from his cell phone 22 seconds before he collided with an oncoming freight train in an accident that killed 25 people and injured 135 others last month, federal authorities said yesterday. Engineer Robert M. Sanchez sent the message at about 4:22 p.m., just before his Metrolink 111 train slammed into the Union Pacific freight train on Sept. 12 in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a written statement. He received a message about a minute earlier, the agency said. The findings fill in key gaps in understanding what happened moments before the crash and also indicate Sanchez was conscious and feeling well enough to text - even though the practice is strictly prohibited by Metrolink policy. In all, Sanchez received and sent 57 text messages while he was responsible for operating a train the day of the catastrophic collision.

Somalia authorizes force against pirates

MOGADISHU, Somalia: Somalia authorized foreign powers yesterday to use force against pirates holding a ship loaded with tanks for $20 million ransom, raising the stakes for bandits being watched by the U.S. Navy. There were no indications, however, that the Americans or anyone else was preparing to take action. Last week's hijacking of the Ukrainian cargo ship MV Faina - carrying 33 Soviet-made T-72 tanks, rifles and heavy weapons - was the highest profile act of piracy off this Horn of Africa nation this year. Several U.S. ships patrolled nearby and American helicopters buzzed overhead. Moscow has also sent a warship to protect the few Russian hostages on board, but it was a week away from the coast of central Somalia where the Faina has been anchored since Sept. 25. Most of the 20 crew members are Ukrainian or Latvian, and one Russian has died, apparently of illness. Spurred by the latest hijacking, at least eight European Union countries offered yesterday to form a new force to help protect shipping in the increasingly dangerous waters off Somalia, France's defense minister said.

Iraq now commands 54,000 Sunni fighters

BAGHDAD: The Shiite-led government of Iraq took command of 54,000 Sunni fighters yesterday in the capital in a U.S.-backed effort to ease sectarian mistrust and offer Sunnis a stronger stake in the country's future. The fighters, known as the Sons of Iraq, were the first wave of what is expected to be 100,000 Sunnis nationwide to join the army, police and other government agencies. Many of the fighters, however, feared they would be marginalized and discriminated against in a nation with high unemployment, rigid sectarian allegiances and a Shiite majority. The Sunni militiamen had been under control of U.S. forces. The U.S. paid each Sunni fighter $300 a month - about the same the Iraqi government is expected to pay.

Hiker finds Steve Fossett's license, cash

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif.: A hiker in a rugged part of eastern California found a pilot's license and other items that appear to belong to Steve Fossett, the adventurer who vanished on a solo flight in a borrowed plane more than a year ago, authorities said yesterday. The information on the pilot license - including Fossett's name, address, date of birth and certificate number - was sent in a photograph to the Federal Aviation Administration, and all matched the agency's records, spokesman Ian Gregor said. The hiker, Preston Morrow, said he found an FAA identity card, a pilot's license, a third ID and $1,005 in cash tangled in a bush off a trail just west of the town of Mammoth Lakes on Monday. He said he turned the items over to local police after unsuccessful attempts to contact Fossett's family. Search teams led by the Madera County Sheriff's Department have been sent to the scene, and an air and ground effort was expected to be under way soon, said sheriff's spokeswoman Erica Stuart.

Ban on atomic trade with India overturned

WASHINGTON: The Senate voted yesterday to overturn a three-decade ban on atomic trade with India, giving final congressional approval to a landmark U.S.-India nuclear cooperation accord and handing President Bush a rare foreign policy victory in his final months in office. The accord, which the Senate passed 86-13, will allow American businesses to begin selling nuclear fuel, technology and reactors to India in exchange for safeguards and U.N. inspections at India's civilian, but not military, nuclear plants. The pact marks a major shift in U.S. policy toward nuclear-armed India after decades of mutual wariness. It now goes to Bush for his signature.

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