SANTA BARBARA, United States: Extreme sports enthusiasts from Saudi Arabia to Egypt are turning to a specialist Californian skydiving school that teaches students in Arabic.
Arabic Drop Zone near Santa Barbara is the premiere source of Arabic translations for the English rules and news of the sport. Arab News recently joined Arabic Drop Zone for a skydiving experience.
“They come to me because I speak the Arabic language and I have a lot of experience doing this. So they seek a lot of help here,” Melad Momtaz, founder of Arabic Drop Zone and a skydiving safety and training advisor, said.
“They come to me because they feel more comfortable communicating in Arabic with someone to jump from 18,000 feet and 13,000 feet and get education about the skydiving.”
Before he founded Arabic Drop Zone, Momtaz started skydiving after looking for an extreme hobby. Now he is qualified as an instructor by the United States Parachute Association and can issue skydiving licenses to his students.
“At 25 jumps you get your ‘A’ license. 50 jumps you get your ‘B’ license. 200 jumps your ‘C’ license. 500 jumps you’re a ‘D’ license from that you can be an AFF instructor you can be a tandem instructor. As many jumps as you do, you get more experience,” Momtaz explained. “I’m about 3,000 jumps right now and hoping that I can do more.”
As Momtaz’s expertise and Arabic Drop Zone’s reach increase, they have been approached for guidance on starting drop zones in the Middle East to bring skydiving to Saudi Arabia, Iraq and beyond.
“All the concentration in the Middle East, I would say it’s on the soccer or the football as we say. But the other sports they’re kind of neglected, especially skydiving,” he said. “It needs a lot of opportunities like airplanes, drop zones, runways. So I’m hoping that I can help as many people as I can.”
Russian tourists to Finland greeted with Ukrainian anthem
Many Russians visit Lappeenranta to shop for clothes and cosmetics, for example, and Russian number plates can be seen on numerous cars
Updated 15 August 2022
LAPPEENRANTA, Finland: A crowd of people gathers in the Eastern Finnish city of Imatra on a bridge overlooking Imatrankoski rapids, one of the Nordic country’s most well-known natural attractions.
At the same time every day, the river’s almost century-old dam is opened and water rushes under the bridge, to the sound of music by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.
It is a popular attraction especially for Russian tourists. Even Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, visited Imatrankoski in 1772.
But since the end of July, the city of Imatra has started the show by playing the Ukrainian national anthem, to protest the Russian invasion.
Finland, which shares 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) eastern border with Russia, is also preparing to limit tourist visas issued for Russians.
“This is bad for the Russians who love Finland,” says Mark Kosykh, a 44-year-old Russian tourist who has come to see the rapids with his family.
“But we understand the government of Finland,” he says.
Kosykh emphasises that there are Russians who do not like the war.
“Not all Russians are for Putin. The government and all people must understand this.”
Also in the nearby city of Lappeenranta, the Ukrainian national anthem is played every evening above its city hall, overlooking shopping centers popular with Russian tourists.
“The aim is to express strong support for Ukraine and to condemn the war of aggression,” Lappeenranta’s Mayor Kimmo Jarva told AFP.
Many Russians visit Lappeenranta to shop for clothes and cosmetics, for example, and Russian number plates can be seen on numerous cars.
But tourism from its eastern neighbor has caused discontent in Finland due to the war in Ukraine.
A poll published last week by Finnish public broadcaster Yle showed 58 percent of Finns in favor of restricting Russian tourist visas.
“In my opinion, they should be restricted very strongly. I don’t see any other way to make Russian politicians think,” Lappeenranta local Antero Ahtiainen, 57, says.
Although he has nothing against individual tourists, Ahtiainen says his relationship with Russians has changed.
Spurred by the rising discontent, Finland’s Foreign Minister presented a plan last week to limit tourist visas issued to Russians.
The Nordic country remains Russia’s only EU neighbor without restrictions on tourist visas to Russian citizens.
As flights from Russia to the EU have been halted, Finland has become a transit country for many Russians seeking to travel further into Europe.
“Many saw this as a circumvention of the sanctions regime,” Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told AFP.
Although the Schengen regime and Finnish law do not allow for an outright ban on visas based on nationality, Finland can reduce visa numbers issued based on category, Haavisto noted.
“Tourism category can be restricted in the terms of how many visas can be applied for in a day,” Haavisto said.
Haavisto said he believed the final decision to adopt the plan could be taken by the end of the month.
Although many Finns are unhappy with Russian visitors now, traditionally people on both sides of the border region have lived in close contact with each other.
“In Saint Petersburg, many people have grandpapas and grandmamas from Finland, like my wife,” Kosykh says and adds that he visits Finland every year.
Russian tourists are also an essential source of income for many Finnish border towns.
After Russia lifted Covid travel restrictions on July 15, the number of Russian tourists heading to Finland has steadily increased.
While the numbers are still well below pre-Covid levels, there were more than 230,000 border crossings in July — up on the 125,000 seen in June.
“Of course, if Russian tourists do not come here, there will be a loss of income for businesses, which is unfortunate,” Jarva says.
But Jarva believes that there is strong support for limiting Russian tourist visas.
“We have to make a choice. We are strongly behind Ukraine.”
Suspected Rome bank robber foiled by tunnel collapse
Updated 15 August 2022
ROME: An Italian man had to be rescued after becoming trapped in a collapsed tunnel near the Vatican, suspected of being part of a gang burrowing its way to a nearby bank ahead of the August 15 long weekend, police had said.
Firefighters spent eight hours digging him out from under a road in the west of Rome, before he was finally freed and taken to hospital.
“Two people from Naples were arrested for resisting a public official and two, from Rome, for damage” to public property, a police spokesman told AFP.
The rescued man, one of the two Romans, remains in hospital, he said without giving an update on his condition.
“We are still investigating, we do not exclude that they are thieves, it is one of the theories,” he said.
For Italian newspapers, however, the motive was clear, noting the tunnel was found near a bank ahead of the August 15 long weekend, when residents traditionally head out of town and much of Rome becomes empty.
“The hole gang,” headlined the Corriere della Sera daily, while La Stampa said: “They dig a tunnel to rob a bank, and one of them is buried underground.”
The man brought out alive on a stretcher, after a day-long operation involving dozens of emergency service workers using mechanical diggers on Thursday.
The tunnel began underneath an empty shop that had recently been rented.
“We all thought that the people there were renovating the place. So, we had no suspicion and we did not hear noises either,” a resident, Michele, who lives in the same building told AFP.
“Anne will be deeply missed but she lives on through her beautiful sons, her iconic body of work, and her passionate advocacy
Updated 13 August 2022
LOS ANGELES: Hollywood actor Anne Heche has been declared legally dead, one week after she crashed her car into a Los Angeles building, a spokeswoman said Friday.
Heche, 53, had been comatose in hospital with a severe brain injury since the fiery collision on August 5.
Having lost all brain function, she is “legally dead according to California law,” though her heart is still beating as her family keeps her body on life support while exploring organ donations, spokeswoman Holly Baird told AFP.
“Today we lost a bright light, a kind and most joyful soul, a loving mother, and a loyal friend,” the family said in a joint statement.
“Anne will be deeply missed but she lives on through her beautiful sons, her iconic body of work, and her passionate advocacy.
“Her bravery for always standing in her truth, spreading her message of love and acceptance, will continue to have a lasting impact.”
Heche, best known for 1990s movies “Donnie Brasco” and “Six Days, Seven Nights” as well as a high-profile relationship with talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, crashed her car into a two-story house in the Mar Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles.
The violent collision resulted in “structural compromise and... heavy fire” at the scene, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
The ensuing blaze took 59 firefighters more than an hour to contain and fully extinguish, the department said.
Local media reported Thursday that preliminary tests of Heche’s blood had come back positive for narcotics, though more were needed to ensure the drugs had not been administered in the course of her treatment.
Celebrity gossip outlet TMZ, citing unnamed police sources, said Heche had tested positive for cocaine and fentanyl, with the latter sometimes used for pain relief in clinical settings.
Heche rose to fame with her role on the soap opera “Another World,” for which she won a Daytime Emmy in 1991.
She was nominated for a Tony award for her appearance in “Twentieth Century” on Broadway in 2004.
“My brother Atlas and I lost our Mom,” Heche’s son Homer Laffoon said in a separate statement.
“Hopefully my mom is free from pain and beginning to explore what I like to imagine as her eternal freedom,” he wrote.
Dubai’s Crown Prince Hamdan meets delivery rider after act of goodness goes viral
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed earlier posted viral video as an Instagram story, inviting the public to help him identify the rider
Updated 11 August 2022
DUBAI: Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum has met with delivery rider who went viral on social media after removing two concrete blocks from a busy intersection while on duty.
Abdul Ghafoor Abdul Hakeem gained widespread admiration on social media after a video captured the delivery rider waiting for trucks and vehicles to pass before rushing to remove two concrete blocks dangerously laying in middle of the road.
“An honor to meet you Abdul Ghafoor, a true example to be followed,” tweeted Sheikh Hamdan.
Sheikh Hamdan had earlier posted the video as an Instagram story, inviting the public to help him identify the rider.
“An act of goodness in Dubai to be praised. Can someone point me to this man?” he captioned his story.
Beluga whale lost in French river euthanized during rescue
A team of 80 people tried to save the animal’s life by transporting the cetaceous into a refrigerated truck to the port in Ouistreham, in Normandy region.
Updated 11 August 2022
PARIS: A beluga whale that became a French celebrity after a wrong turn took it up the Seine River had to be euthanized Wednesday after experiencing health complications during an urgent rescue operation, authorities said.
The sparkling white marine mammal appeared deep inside France last week, having accidentally veered off the normal ocean migration route that takes belugas to and from Arctic waters.
Fearing the malnourished creature would not survive in the Seine much longer, a wildlife conservation group and veterinarians planned to move the lost whale to a saltwater port in Normandy, from where they hoped to return it to the open sea.
A team of 80 people assembled to try to save the animal’s life, and it was successfully moved Tuesday night from a river lock in Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne, west of Paris, into a refrigerated truck for the 60-kilometer (99-mile) journey to the port in Ouistreham.
But during the drive, the 4-meter-long (13-foot-long) whale started to breath with difficulty, according to Florence Ollivet Courtois, a French veterinarian who worked on the rescue operation.
“During the journey, the veterinarians confirmed a worsening of its state, notably in its respiratory activities, and at the same time noticed the animal was in pain, not breathing enough,” Courtois said.
“The suffering was obvious for the animal, so it was important to release its tension, and so we had to proceed to euthanize it,” she added.
Environmentalists had acknowledged the plan to move the beluga risked fatally stressing the mammal. But marine conservation group Sea Shepherd said that it couldn’t have survived much longer in the Seine’s fresh water.
The group and veterinarians noted the whale had responded to a cocktail of antibiotics and vitamins over the last few days, making them hopeful it would recover once it was back in a saltwater environment.
A necropsy is planned on the whale, which weighed about about 800 kilograms (1,764 pounds).
Rescuers had hoped to spare the whale the fate of an orca that strayed into the Seine and died in May. In 2006, a bottlenose whale — nicknamed “Willy” — swam up the Thames River as far as London and died during a its attempted rescue.
Another complicating factor during the beluga’s rescue attempt was the extreme heat gripping France. Authorities tried to keep it cool and wet with soaked towels and moved it at nightfall when temperatures are at their lowest.
The sad end to a saga that gripped France in recent days came after experts determined the whale “was too weakened to be put back into water,” Guillaume Lericolais, the sub-prefect of France’s Calvados region, said.
Rescuers tried to feed the whale fish without success since Friday. Sea Shepherd France said veterinary exams after the beluga’s removal from the river showed it has no digestive activity.