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Sriwijaya Air crash: Indonesia probing whether faulty system contributed to crash

Asia|Aviation|: JAKARTA: Indonesia's air accident investigator is probing whether a problem with the autothrottle system, that controls engine power automatically, contributed to the Sriwijaya Air crash on Jan. 9 that killed all 62 people on board, an official said on Friday. National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) investigator Nurcayho Utomo said a problem with the Boeing 737-500's autothrottle system was reported after a flight a few days earlier. "There was a report of malfunction on the autothrottle a couple of days before to the technician in the maintenance log, but we do not know what kind of problem," he told Reuters. "If we find the CVR (cockpit voice recorder) we can hear the discussion between the pilots, what they talked about and we will know what is the problem." It remains unclear whether a problem with the autothrottle system contributed to the crash, Utomo said, adding he could not recall any other issues raised in the maintenance log. It is acceptable for a plane to fly with an autothrottle system that is not working because pilots can control it manually instead, he said. Sriwijaya said he was unable to comment on technical matters involving the investigation before an official statement was made by KNKT. A preliminary report is expected to be issued within 30 days of the crash, in line with international standards. The plane's flight data recorder (FDR) has been recovered and read by investigators but an underwater search for the CVR's memory unit at the crash site in the Java Sea is continuing. Citing sources close to the investigation, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Thursday reported the FDR data showed the autothrottle system was not operating properly on one of the plane's engines as it climbed on departure from Jakarta. Instead of shutting off the system, the FDR indicated the pilots tried to get the stuck throttle to function, the WSJ said. That could create significant differences in power between engines, making the jet harder to control. Ends search for victims, debris Authorities on Thursday ended the search for remaining victims and debris from a Sriwijaya Air jet that nosedived into the Java Sea, killing all 62 people on board. Transportation minister Budi Karya Sumadi said retrieval operations have ended after nearly two weeks, but that a limited search for the missing memory unit from the cockpit voice recorder will continue. The memory unit apparently broke away from other parts of the voice recorder during the crash. Divers retrieved its battered casing and cover last week near the location where the flight data recorder was recovered three days after the accident. The Boeing 737-500 jet crashed on Jan. 9, minutes after taking off from Jakarta, the capital. Searchers have recovered plane parts and human remains from an area between Lancang and Laki islands in the Thousand Island chain just north of Jakarta. "After much consideration, we have to close the search and rescue operation today,'' Sumadi told reporters. "However, we are committed to continue efforts to find the cockpit voice recorder." The government will provide a ship to take relatives to the crash site for a memorial ceremony on Friday morning, Sumadi said. So far, 43 victims have been identified from more than 300 body bags containing human remains sent to the National Police's disaster victim identification unit.

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Mystery winner: Who won the $731 million Powerball?

Americas|: Someone in Maryland is suddenly $731 million richer. A jackpot-winning Powerball ticket was sold at a convenience store in Lonaconing, a down-on-its-luck former mining town in the virus-battered northwestern corner of the state. The ticket matched all six numbers during Wednesday evening's Powerball drawing. The $731.1 million jackpot is the fourth largest in Powerball's 28-year history and the sixth largest lottery jackpot ever in the United States, Powerball announced on Thursday. The drawing was the highest the Powerball jackpot has been since March 2019, when it rose to $768 million. Powerball did not immediately name the winner. Lottery winners in Maryland can choose to remain anonymous, and they have at least 182 days to claim the prize. The winning ticket was sold at Coney Market, a convenience store that sells subs and pizza in Lonaconing, a small town - population 1,200 - in Allegany County, which has the most COVID-19 cases per capita in the state. About a quarter of the population of Lonaconing lives below the poverty line, according to census data. "We were surprised and very happy," Richard Ravenscroft, the store's owner, said in an interview Thursday. "We don't know for who, but we are happy for somebody." The store will receive a $100,000 bonus from the Maryland Lottery for selling the winning ticket. The winning numbers in Wednesday's drawing were 40, 53, 60, 68, 69 and a Powerball of 22. According to Powerball, the winner can choose to have an estimated pretax annuity of $731.1 million paid in 30 payments over 29 years, or a lump sum of $546.8 million, also before taxes. The odds of winning a Powerball jackpot are 1 in 292.2 million. Another national lottery closed in on a record jackpot this week: Before its drawing Friday, Mega Millions estimates that its jackpot will reach $970 million, which would be the second-largest prize in the game's history. Is good fortune bad? A lingering mythology holds that the winners of big jackpots become cursed after their strokes of good fortune. There are numerous accounts of winners who, unequipped to manage their newfound wealth, go on to struggle with substance abuse, ruined relationships and insolvency. One influential study in 1978 found that lottery winners were not any happier than their neighbors or more optimistic about the future. But other studies have countered the notion of the so-called lottery curse, suggesting that the winners' general psychological well-being bounces back over time after cashing in the prize. Ravenscroft, who has owned Coney Market for six years, said he wished the winner luck. "I really think that they have quite an opportunity, and I hope they use good judgment," he said. The Powerball jackpot was last hit in New York in the Sept. 16 drawing. Since then, there had been 35 games in a row without a jackpot winner until Wednesday. The next drawing will be Saturday, when the Powerball jackpot resets to $20 million.

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Coronavirus: Fauci relieved Biden ready to 'let the science speak' on COVID-19

Americas|: Washington: President Joe Biden unveiled sweeping measures to battle COVID-19 on his first full day in office on Thursday, with his chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, praising his new boss’ willingness to “let the science speak” in contrast to the Trump administration. Biden said he was stepping up the federal response to the virus including by taking steps to expand testing and vaccinations and increase mask-wearing. “This is a wartime undertaking,” the Democratic president said at a White House event where he signed executive orders to establish a COVID-19 testing board to ramp up testing, address supply shortfalls, establish protocols for international travelers and direct resources to hard-hit minority communities. The pandemic has killed 405,000 people and infected more than 24 million in the United States, the highest numbers anywhere in the world. Former President Donald Trump, who left office on Wednesday, often sought to play down the severity of the country’s worst public health crisis in a century and left much of the planning to individual states, resulting in a patchwork of policies across the country. Fauci, who served under Trump but has been promoted to Biden’s chief medical adviser, was at Biden’s side during the event and then spoke to reporters in the White House briefing room for the first time in weeks, after Trump largely banished him from the podium. Fauci said he was “uncomfortable” at times during the Trump administration. He did not mention the Republican former president by name, but referred to comments about the drug hydroxycloroquine, which Trump boosted as a treatment for COVID-19 before its efficacy had been proven, which Fauci said “were not based on scientific fact.” “I take no pleasure at all in being in a situation of contradicting the president,” said Fauci, adding that he felt free under Biden to speak without “repercussions.” “The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know, what the evidence, what the science is, and know that’s it — let the science speak — it is somewhat of a liberating feeling,” he said. One of the new things in this administration is if you don’t have the answer, dont guess. Just say you dont know the answer, Fauci added. The United States was still in a very serious situation with the virus, but that seven-day averages suggested the infection rates were plateauing, he said. If 70% to 80% of Americans are vaccinated by the end of summer, he added, the country could experience “a degree of normality” by the fall. Top of his list At the earlier event, Biden said the rollout of the vaccine in the United States had been a “dismal failure so far,” and disclosed a White House plan that increases the federal government’s role in the response. Biden made a personal plea to all Americans to wear masks over the next 99 days to stop the spread of the virus. “The experts say, by wearing a mask from now until April, wed save more than 50,000 lives,” he said. Among other actions signed by Biden on Thursday was an order requiring mask-wearing in airports and on certain public transportation, including many trains, airplanes and intercity buses. The administration will expand vaccine manufacturing and its power to purchase more vaccines by “fully leveraging contract authorities, including the Defense Production Act,” according to the plan. The Trump administration had invoked the law, which grants the president broad authority to expedite and expand the supply of resources from the US industrial base for protective gear, but never enacted it for testing or vaccine production. The White House plan also has the United States taking a larger global role in tackling the pandemic, and Biden will direct government departments to support efforts to get vaccines to poorer countries. Biden has also rescinded Trump’s planned withdrawal from the World Health Organization. The president has pledged to provide 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine during his first 100 days in office. His plan aims to increase vaccinations by opening up eligibility for more people such as teachers and grocery clerks. As of Thursday morning, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had administered 17.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine out of some 38 million distributed. Biden has put fighting the disease at the top of a daunting list of challenges, including rebuilding a ravaged economy and addressing racial injustice, and has proposed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 package that would enhance jobless benefits and provide direct cash payments to households to alleviate the financial pain from the coronavirus. The House of Representatives is planning to bring the bill to a vote the first week of February, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday.