The three American firefighters who were killed when the aerial water tanker they were in crashed while battling wildfires in Australia have been identified by their employer.
The men who died Thursday in the crash of the C-130 Hercules were Capt. Ian H. McBeth, 44, of Great Falls, Montana; First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson, 42, of Buckeye, Arizona; and Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr., 43, of Navarre, Florida, Canada-based Coulson Aviation said in a statement.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed the deaths in the state's Snowy Monaro region, which came as Australia grapples with an unprecedented fire season that has left a large swath of destruction.
In its statement, Coulson said McBeth "was a highly qualified and respected C-130 pilot with many years fighting fire, both in the military and with Coulson Aviation."
McBeth, who is survived by his wife and three children, also served with the Montana and Wyoming National Guard, the company said.
Hudson "graduated from the Naval Academy in 1999 and spent the next twenty years serving in the United States Marine Corp in a number of positions including C-130 pilot," Coulson said. He is survived by his wife.
DeMorgan served in the U.S. Air Force with 18 years as a flight engineer on the C-130, the company said. He had had more than 4,000 hours as a flight engineer with nearly 2,000 hours in combat,
"Rick's passion was always flying and his children," Coulson said. He is survived by two children, his parents and his sister.
Coulson said in a statement that one of its Lockheed large air tankers was lost after it left Richmond in New South Wales with retardant for a firebombing mission. It said the accident was "extensive" but had few other details.
"The only thing I have from the field reports are that the plane came down, it's crashed and there was a large fireball associated with that crash," Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she had conveyed Australia's condolences to U.S. Ambassador Arthur Culvahouse Jr.
"Our hearts go out to their loved ones. They were helping Australia, far from their own homes, an embodiment of the deep friendship between our two countries," she said in a statement.
Payne added: "Thank you to these three, and to all the brave firefighters from Australia and around the world. Your service and contribution are extraordinary. We are ever grateful."
Berejiklian said a state memorial service will be held in Sydney on Feb. 23 for the American firefighters and three Australian volunteer firefighters who have died during this wildfire season.
"We will pay tribute to the brave firefighters who lost their own lives protecting the lives and properties of others," she said.
"I know that many members of the public, the RFS (Rural FireService), and emergency services personnel will want to come together as families and communities work their way through this unbelievable loss."
The tragedy brings the death toll from the blazes to at least 31 since September. The fires have also destroyed more than 2,600 homes and razed more than 10.4 million hectares (25.7 million acres), an area bigger than the U.S. state of Indiana.
Coulson grounded other firefighting aircraft as a precaution pending investigation, reducing planes available to firefighters in New South Wales and neighboring Victoria state. The four-propeller Hercules drops more than 15,000 liters (4,000 gallons) of fire retardant in a single pass.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the national air crash investigator, and state police will investigate the crash site, which firefighters described as an active fire ground.
"There is no indication at this stage of what's caused the accident," Fitzsimmons said.
Berejiklian said there were more than 1,700 volunteers and personnel in the field, and five fires were being described at an "emergency warning" level — the most dangerous on a three-tier scale — across the state and on the fringes of the national capital Canberra.
Also Thursday, Canberra Airport closed temporarily because of nearby wildfires, and residents south of the city were told to seek shelter. The airport reopened after several hours with Qantas operating limited services, but Virgin and Singapore Airlines canceled flights for the rest of the day.
The blaze started Wednesday, but strong winds and high temperatures caused conditions in Canberra to deteriorate. A second fire near the airport that started on Thursday morning is at a "watch and act" level — the middle of the three tiers.
Residents in some Canberra suburbs were advised to seek shelter and others to leave immediately.
"The defense force is both assisting to a degree and looking to whether that needs to be reinforced," Chief of Defense Angus Campbell told reporters.
"I have people who are both involved as persons who need to be moved from areas and office buildings that are potentially in danger, and also those persons who are part of the (Operation) Bushfire Assist effort," he said.
Shares were mostly higher in quiet trading on Friday in Asia as China began a week-long Lunar New Year festival that is being overshadowed by the outbreak of a new virus that has killed 25 people and sickened more than 800.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose less than 0.1% to 23,811.54 and in Hong Kong the Hang Seng gained 0.2% to 27,949.64. Australia's S&P ASX/200 picked up 0.2% to 7,100.30 and the Sensex in India also rose 0.2%, to 41,473.97.
Markets were closed in Shanghai and the rest of mainland China, South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan.
As authorities confirmed more cases of the new virus first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, investors continued to monitor developments in the international effort to keep it from spreading further and potentially harming the global economy.
The World Health Organization decided Thursday against declaring the outbreak a global emergency for now. Such a declaration could increase resources for battling the outbreak but also result in trade and travel restrictions and other economic damage.
Fears that the coronavirus could spread have weighed on global markets this week, driving up demand for U.S. government bonds and safe-play stocks.
Market "traders are weighing the anticipated China growth fallout against the backdrop of the current global growth recovery. While the calculus is not coming up roses, it's far from a state of global market panic," Stephen Innes of AxiCorp said in a commentary.
"Still, if risk aversion starts to spread beyond China's borders and starts to affect more than the usual suspect's luxury, travel, and tourism, then we will likely see a more significant dive in the broader global indices," he said.
Major U.S. stock indexes closed mostly higher Thursday, as gains in technology and industrial companies offset declines elsewhere in the market.
The S&P 500 notched a small gain for the second straight day, climbing 0.1% to 3,325.54, while a modest pickup nudged the Nasdaq composite to an all-time high of 9,402.48, up 0.2%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average edged 0.1% lower to 29,160.09, its third straight day of losses as the benchmark was weighed down by a steep drop in shares of Travelers Cos.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks rose less than 0.1%, to 1,685.01.
Traders also had their eye on a mixed batch of company earnings reports, including encouraging quarterly results from American Airlines and Citrix Systems, and disappointing report cards from Travelers and Raymond James Financial.
"Today was driven a bit by earnings, but also by the coronavirus fears," said J.J. Kinahan, chief strategist with TD Ameritrade. "Asian markets had a really tough night and that was our lead-in, that put a bit of extra pressure on the market coming in."
Excluding the Nasdaq, the major U.S. stock indexes are on track to end the week with a loss.
Bond prices rose, pulling the yield on the 10-year Treasury lower to 1.73% from 1.77% late Wednesday.
Benchmark crude oil gained 14 cents to $55.73 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell $1.15 to settle at $55.59 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude oil, the international standard, picked up 18 cents to $62.22 per barrel. It dropped $1.17 to close at $62.04 a barrel overnight.
Gold fell back, losing $4.30 to $1,561.10. Silver shed 3 cents to $17.80 per ounce and copper fell 4 cents to $2.73 per pound.
The dollar rose to 109.52 Japanese yen from 109.49 yen on Thursday. The euro weakened to $1.1053 from $1.1056.
Airports are adding passenger screenings and taking other precautions to prevent a new virus from being spread by Chinese tourists going abroad for the Lunar New Year holidays.
China has imposed an unprecedented, open-ended shutdown of Wuhan, the city of 11 million people where the virus first appeared last month. And it began similar measures in nearby cities Friday to try to halt the spread of the newly identified coronavirus that has infected hundreds.
A scattered number of cases have been confirmed in other countries, mainly Asian destinations for Chinese workers and tourists that were quick to screen travelers and isolate anyone with similar symptoms to limit the spread of the virus.
Still, there are fears the virus could spread further during the travel and festivities that accompany Lunar New Year. Chinese are expected to take an estimated 3 billion trips during the 40-day spike in travel.
Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest for international travel, said Thursday it would conduct thermal screening of passengers arriving on direct flights from China.
The screening at the airport, home to Emirates airline, will be conducted at secured, closed gates by teams from the Dubai Health Authority and the Airport Medical Center, Dubai Airports said in a statement provided to The Associated Press.
The airport authority would not say whether it expected a drop in passengers from China for the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins Friday.
Abu Dhabi International Airport, home to Etihad Airways, also started a screening process for all passengers arriving from China. The oil-rich nation of Kuwait and the energy-rich nation of Qatar said Friday they have installed thermal cameras at their main international airports and border crossings, and Bahrain said it was taking unspecified steps.
At dawn on Thursday, Italian Red Cross officials were on hand at Rome's Fiumicino airport to meet the last flight from Wuhan before the Chinese city's airport was shut down.
The 202 passengers were taken to a special sterile area for a screening of their body temperature by health workers wearing sanitary suits, goggles and masks, but none were found to be suffering from the virus, Dr. Michele Bonizzi said.
Before flights from Wuhan were grounded, passengers arriving in the U.S. from flights originating in the city were directed to Kennedy Airport in New York, Los Angeles International, San Francisco International, O'Hare Airport in Chicago and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport where facilities were set up for screening.
British authorities said passengers arriving from China to Heathrow Airport in London, Europe's busiest, and other airports were not being screened but that they were being given information leaflets on what to do if they fall ill.
In Africa, home to hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers, airports in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya have also begun screening arriving passengers.
"Nigerians are advised to remain calm," the government of Africa's most populous nation said Wednesday.
But Ethiopian Airlines, which has multiple daily passenger and cargo flights to China and Africa's busiest airport hub, said Thursday it was waiting for guidance from Ethiopia's Health Ministry on how to respond.
China is Africa's top trading partner.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said he would unveil the long-awaited Middle East peace plan before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington on next Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Trump said he would release the plan before his meeting with Netanyahu. "Sometime prior to that," Trump said. "Probably we'll release it a little bit prior to that."
Trump also said Palestinians might react negatively to the plan at first, but that "it's actually very positive for them."
The White House earlier in the day said Netanyahu's visit "is an opportunity to discuss our shared regional and national security interests."
Benjamin Gantz, chairman of Israeli political alliance Blue and White and elections rival of Netanyahu, also accepted Trump's invitation to come to Washington, according to the White House.
U.S. media reported that the long-awaited Middle East peace plan might be a political boost for Trump and Netanyahu, both of whom currently underwent political turmoil at home.
Trump has postponed several times the publication of his "Deal of the Century" for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The economic portion of Trump's peace plan was unveiled during a U.S.-led conference in Bahrain last June, a convention boycotted by the Palestinians.
The Trump administration has reversed decades of U.S. policy regarding the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Political ties between Palestine and the United States have been severed right after Trump declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and moved the U.S. embassy to the city in 2018.
In November 2019, Washington announced that it would no longer consider Israel's West Bank settlements "inconsistent" with international law, a move which further dimmed the future of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
U.S. health scientists said in an essay Thursday that a candidate vaccine for the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) could be ready for early-stage human testing in three months.
In an essay published on the U.S. medical journal JAMA, Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Catharine Paules, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at Penn State University, said advances in technology since the SARS outbreak in 2003 have greatly compressed the vaccine development timeline.
The researchers moved from obtaining the genomic sequence of SARS virus to a phase-one clinical trial of a DNA vaccine in 20 months and have since compressed that timeline to 3.25 months for other viral diseases.
The scientists hope to move even faster for 2019-nCoV, using messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine technology, according to the authors.
The predominant human receptor for the SARS glycoprotein is human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). Preliminary analyses indicated that 2019-nCoV has some amino acid homology to SARS virus and may be able to use ACE2 as a receptor.
This could have important implications for predicting pandemic potential moving forward, said the authors.
Also, the emergence of yet another outbreak of human disease caused by a pathogen from a viral family formerly thought to be relatively benign underscores the perpetual challenge of emerging infectious diseases and the importance of sustained preparedness, the authors said.
U.S. and Chinese medical institutions are working together to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus which has already caused 830 confirmed cases of pneumonia in China as of Thursday.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday that it was "too early" to declare the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China a public health emergency of international concern, while warning that the number of cases may rise as many about the virus remain unknown.