Who Put That Warhead on There?
Politicians fret about nuclear bombs ending up in the wrong hands. But sometimes the "right hands" can't safeguard them, either. That scary truth became woefully apparent last week when Pentagon officials acknowledged that a military plane in August had accidentally and unknowingly carried six nuclear warheads from one end of the country to the other.
The snafu-cum-scandal started on August 30 at Minot Air Force Base in Minot, N.D., when Air Force crew members were loading up a B-52 bomber bound for Louisiana. Six advanced cruise missiles, all slated for decommissioning, were to be attached to the bomber's wings. But first the munitions crew—in accordance with Air Force policy—would need to remove the nuclear warheads on the missiles.
Yet the order to remove the warheads was never executed. In fact, it wasn't until the bomber showed up at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana more than three hours later that someone spotted the problem.
In response to growing speculation about the incident, Pentagon officials said that the nuclear warheads could not have detonated without presidential approval. The Air Force is conducting an investigation, and the squadron commander at Minot has been relieved of his duties.
A Big Gun Case for the High Court
Does a city have a right to ban handguns? Lawyers for the Washington, D.C., put the question to the Supreme Court last week in a case that could have a significant impact on the scope of federal gun rights across the country. If the Supreme Court takes up the case, it would also be the first time in 68 years that the Supreme Court has taken up the Second Amendment.
D.C. officials say the handgun ban—which exempts rifles and shotguns—is central to fighting crime. But a federal appeals court struck down the law in March, saying the Constitution protects not just the right of state militias to bear arms but individual rights as well.
It's a view that most appellate courts had already rejected, fearing such an open-ended analysis would limit local control. So with a split among the courts, and prodding from both the city and the gun lobby, the Supreme Court seems headed for a showdown.
Out of Tragedy, a Start at Closure
It's impossible to put a price tag on a human life. But families of the victims of the 2003 West Warwick, R.I., nightclub fire were forced to make that morbid calculation in reaching a preliminary $13.5 million settlement last week with nine of the defendants in a civil lawsuit. The proposed deal with a pyrotechnics company, an alarm company, and landlords of the nightclub marks the first resolution of the suit against about 90 companies and individuals in connection with one of the deadliest club blazes on record. The fire, which killed 100 and injured dozens more, started when the band Great White set off fireworks. Investigations revealed that the club had not complied with the city safety code. The band manager and club owners earlier reached plea deals with prosecutors.
A Daredevil Disappears
Steve Fossett is no stranger to dangerous expeditions. The 63-year-old adventurer has crisscrossed the globe in hot-air balloons, flown gliders into the stratosphere, completed the Iditarod sled-dog race, and piloted a jet from California to South Carolina in less than three hours.
But last week, Fossett's knack for evading harm—and staying alive—may have come to a sudden end. On September 3, flying solo in a single-engine plane, Fossett lifted off from a small airstrip near Reno, Nev., reportedly hoping to inspect sites for an attempt at setting a new land-speed record. And then he disappeared.
By Monday evening, with no word from Fossett and no signal from the locator device on his plane, authorities launched what would be the first stage of a massive manhunt. Search-and-rescue helicopters with thermal imaging scanners were eventually enlisted. But by week's end, after days of combing the sagebrush and rugged terrain, there was still no sign of Fossett or his Bellanca Citabria Super Decathlon plane.