Two Americans die in Great Barrier Reef chopper crash

Above, an aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of the Whitsunday Islands, along the central coast of Queensland in this 2014 photo. (AFP)
Updated 22 March 2018
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Two Americans die in Great Barrier Reef chopper crash

SYDNEY: Two elderly American tourists have been killed in a helicopter crash at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, police said Thursday, despite onlookers’ desperate attempts to revive the pair.
The 79-year-old man and 65-year-old women died when the chopper went down near a pontoon on the reef off popular tourist hotspot Airlie Beach late Wednesday. Two other passengers, also from the United States, and the pilot survived with minor injuries.
“As a result of that crash, emergency services have attended and an independent, transparent and robust investigation is currently underway,” local police inspector Ian Haughton said.
There was no indication of what caused the crash but Haughton said the probe would look at the mechanical servicing of the helicopter, what happened at the scene that may have been a contributing factor, and any possibility of error.
Witnesses on a nearby dive platform helped drag the passengers from the water, the Brisbane Courier Mail reported, performing resuscitation under phone instruction from emergency services who were an hour away from the remote site in Queensland’s Whitsunday region.
But the two Americans could not be saved.
“It’s just gut-wrenching. It’s not good. My deepest sympathies goes out to those who lost their lives and those that were injured,” Whitsunday Mayor Andrew Willcox told broadcaster ABC.
“I know most of the tourism operators in the Whitsundays personally and I know they all hold their passenger experience and safety as their number one priority, so it will be a somber day for us in the Whitsundays.”
The company that operated the helicopter, reportedly Whitsunday Air Services, has suspended operations.


Macron fires bodyguard filmed beating protester; critics say too late

Updated 1 min 8 sec ago
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Macron fires bodyguard filmed beating protester; critics say too late

  • Alexandre Benalla, who as Macron’s top bodyguard has long been a fixture by his side, was taken into custody for police questioning over the incident, which took place when Benalla appeared at May Day protests in a riot helmet and police tags.
  • Lawmakers have launched a parliamentary inquiry into the incident itself, the lenient initial punishment and the failure of the authorities to report Benalla promptly to the judiciary.

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron fired the head of his personal security detail on Friday but faced criticism for failing to act sooner, after a video was released showing the man posing as a police officer and beating a protester while off duty in May.
Alexandre Benalla, who as Macron’s top bodyguard has long been a fixture by his side, was taken into custody for police questioning over the incident, which took place when Benalla appeared at May Day protests in a riot helmet and police tags.
He had initially been suspended for just 15 days and allowed to return to work. Just days ago he was seen in public helping to organize security for celebrations for the return of France’s World Cup champion soccer team.
Lawmakers have launched a parliamentary inquiry into the incident itself, the lenient initial punishment and the failure of the authorities to report Benalla promptly to the judiciary.
In the footage, which was released on Wednesday by Le Monde newspaper, Benalla can be seen dragging a woman away from a protest and later beating a male demonstrator. On Friday, French media released a second video which showed Benalla also manhandling the woman.
He had been given permission by the president’s office to attend the protests as an observer of the security operation, but had no authorization to take part in police work.
The president’s office brushed off accusations that it had responded only because the nearly three-month-old videos had become public. It said the decision had now been taken to fire Benalla because the bodyguard had improperly obtained a document while trying to make his case over the accusations.
“New facts that could constitute a misdemeanour by Alexandre Benalla were brought to the president’s attention,” an official at the presidential palace told Reuters. “As a result ... the presidency has decided to start Alexandre Benalla’s dismissal procedure.”
Critics of Macron called the president’s delayed response a characteristic sign that he is out of touch. It follows controversies over government spending on official crockery, a swimming pool at a presidential retreat and cutting remarks by the president about the costs of welfare.
After hours of debate in the lower house on Thursday, lawmakers agreed to launch a parliamentary inquiry.
“Why did he protect this person? Does he head up a parallel police force? Refusing to answer makes (Macron) complicit in these acts of violence,” Eric Ciotti, a senior member of the conservative Republicans party, said on Twitter.