Airline Security Questions Scrapped

— -- No More Airline Security Questions

W A S H I N G T O N, Aug. 29 — Airline passengers, starting immediately, will no longer be asked the routine security questions about whether they have kept a close eye on their baggage.

Ticket agents have been required for the past 16 years to ask passengers two questions: "Has anyone unknown to you asked you to carry an item on this flight?" and "Have any of the items you are traveling with been out of your immediate control since the time you packed them?"

The questions are being phased out because they create a hassle and have never prevented a bombing or hijacking, said James Loy, head of the Transportation Security Administration.

"Over the years, they have lost whatever original value they contributed and can now be safely eliminated," Loy said Wednesday.

The questions take about 20 seconds to ask and that adds up to a longer wait for someone standing in line behind 20 people, Loy said.

The TSA, which was created after Sept. 11 to oversee aviation security, has already begun to notify the airlines of the decision, Loy said. "They are delighted," he said.

David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, said passengers would be delighted, too.

"It's about time," Stempler said.

Loy, who took over last month, said last week the agency was considering eliminating the questions as part of a larger review of safety regulations. He announced then that passengers will be allowed to carry drinks in paper or foam cups through metal detectors.

Next on the agenda may be random screening of passengers at airport gates, he said.

"I think passengers would really like that," Stempler said. "We never understood that. You either do it right the first time or fix what you're doing at the security lane."

— The Associated Press

U.S. Backs Off Restricting Foreign Aircraft On Sept. 11

W A S H I N G T O N, Aug. 29 — The Bush administration backed off a proposal today to restrict foreign air carriers from flying over the three Sept. 11 crash sites during the anniversary of the attacks, administration officials said.

The Pentagon had proposed restricting foreign-owned commercial and cargo aircraft from flying into and from New York and Washington and over Somerset County, Pa., on the anniversary.

But amid protests from the carriers, top government officials decided to drop the idea, concluding that it was probably illegal, the official said. Foreign carriers will not be treated any differently than domestic carriers on that day, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A Transportation Department official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, agreed with that assessment.

Intelligence officials pressured transportation regulators to consider restrictions on foreign flights, and the regulators moved too quickly in discussing the plan with carriers, a government official said. But various international treaties bar singling out foreign carriers, the official said.

However, the government is still considering restrictions on private planes, known as general aviation, and charter flights. They would be legal, the official said.

Small private plane owners are especially concerned about a proposal to ban their aircraft from New York from Sept. 11-13, said Warren Morningstar, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

The three-day flight ban over New York would prohibit news helicopters, corporate jets and small planes carrying packages and hospital patients from flying from 17 airports, he said.

"We would hope that they would not forget the impact that this proposal would put on general aviation and they would give us equal consideration," Morningstar said.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which formally implements final decisions on flight restrictions through a so-called "notice to airmen," has yet to issue such a notice, FAA spokesman Scott Brenner said. A meeting will be held with government agencies Friday to further hash out the issues but no timetable has been set, he said.

The International Air Transport Association, which represents U.S. and foreign-owned airlines, had questioned why American-owned airlines are not included.

"If there are no restrictions on the U.S. and foreign airlines, then we're obviously pleased that the FAA understood the importance and significance of treating U.S. and foreign airlines equally," spokeswoman Wanda Warner said.

David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, said restrictions on foreign-owned airlines for two days would have a ripple effect throughout the week. "The proposed plan would wreak havoc on the plans and schedules of airlines and passengers," he said.

Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the White House Office of Homeland Security, said the government had no specific information suggesting events commemorating Sept. 11 at those sites are terror targets. No firm decisions have been made on flight restrictions, he said.

The three attack sites will see temporary flight restrictions because President Bush plans to visit each of them, and such restrictions follow him wherever he goes, the official said.

— Associated Press

Bone Fragments Found on Roof Near WTC Site

N E W Y O R K, Aug. 29 — Construction workers on the roof of a badly damaged building near the World Trade Center site found three bone fragments, police said.

The fragments could not be immediately identified as human remains, and they were taken to the city medical examiner's office to be tested, according to police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Williams.

The workers were atop 130 Liberty Street, owned by the Deutsche Bank, when they found the fragments at about 6:50 p.m. Wednesday, police said.

The Deutsche Bank building was heavily damaged in the Sept. 11 attacks, when falling debris tore a gash in its facade.

Contaminated by mold and asbestos, the building was among the last in the area to be searched by firefighters for human remains.

— The Associated Press

NYC Firefighters Still Have 'WTC Cough'

N E W Y O R K, Sept. 9 — Nearly a year after rushing to the World Trade Center, nearly 600 firefighters and paramedics remain on leave or limited duty because of respiratory problems or stress, department officials reported Monday.

Out of the 300-plus firefighters who developed a severe and persistent condition dubbed "World Trade Center cough," about half are still on medical leave or light duty, or are awaiting evaluations for disability retirement.

In all, some 500 firefighters might eventually retire on disability because of respiratory problems, said Dr. David Prezant, the department's deputy chief medical officer. That is about 4 percent of the city's 11,500 firefighters.

He spoke in a telephone briefing arranged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is publishing a report by him and colleagues in a special Sept. 11 issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In the publication, Prezant and colleagues said that as of Aug. 28, 358 firefighters and five department paramedics were on medical leave or light duty because of respiratory illness that appeared after the trade center tragedy. A total of 250 were on leave with stress-related problems. Those numbers include 37 workers with both respiratory and stress problems.

The "World Trade Center cough," which includes coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, was defined for the study as requiring at least four straight weeks of medical leave. Within six months of the attack, it appeared in 332 firefighters and one paramedic; with treatment, about half have recovered and returned to full duty, Prezant said.

He said he expected a higher recovery rate based on previous experience with smoke inhalation, where the level is closer to 90 percent, he said.

Asked why the cough recovery rate is lower, he said it is not known what firefighters were exposed to last Sept. 11, but that tiny particles in the huge dust cloud could themselves be highly dangerous if inhaled. The sheer volume of particles and lengthy exposure over days probably sets the trade center experience apart from ordinary firefighter exposures, he said.

He said symptoms have improved to varying degrees even in the firefighters who have only partially recovered.

"Life is becoming a little more livable," he said. "But they're a long way off from (being) the physically active, athletic firefighter."

— The Associated Press