Airline mergers push art of numbering flights the way of the Concorde
In its day, the supersonic commercial airliner Concorde flew from London to New York as British Airways Flight 1.
May 18th, 2011
09:28 PM ET

Airline mergers push art of numbering flights the way of the Concorde

Most airlines assign flight numbers randomly, but every so often, a bit of whimsy makes its way into the schedule.

Southwest Airlines Flight 711 goes from San Antonio to Las Vegas in a wink to the craps tables, an airline spokeswoman said. Some flights to and from Philadelphia fly under 1776, the year the Declaration of Independence was signed in the City of Brotherly Love. And some flights to Columbus, Ohio, go by 1492, the year Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

“At Southwest, we try to have fun with everything we do,” the spokeswoman said. “We have a system built in-house that allows us to include or exclude flight numbers as we see fit, but we do assign certain numbers to certain flights for fun.”

Most airlines operate under a similar system, said Brett Snyder, who runs “Cranky Concierge” travel service and the “Cranky Flier” blog.

The occasional “legacy number” remains, such as American Airlines' Flight 1 from New York’s JFK airport to LAX, but “most of the stuff is pretty random,” he said.

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Overheard on CNN.com: Scoff and concern for end-of-the-worlders
May 18th, 2011
05:58 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Scoff and concern for end-of-the-worlders

Comment of the day:

"It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine." – Lolita

Tick tock goes the doomsday clock

The beginning of the end of the world, in some people's minds, is near - like this Saturday. According to loyal listeners of Family Radio, founded by Harold Camping and based in Oakland, California, Saturday will usher in the beginning of Judgment Day. They believe a massive worldwide earthquake will strike, leading to five months of death and destruction culminating on October 21, when the Earth will no longer exist.

Some CNN.com readers expressed strong skepticism about the "end of days" prediction, and some felt empathy for the people who have given up their possessions, jobs and family to spread the message.

Acts 2:38 said, "The rapture will NOT take place on May 21st. I feel so bad for the poor people who have bought into Mr. Campings lies." Claymation said, "This Camping fellow knows exactly what he's doing. He's done it all before. The fact is that he's feeding off these people, whether it be for money or fame, he's getting what he wants. May 21st will come and go and he'll say something like, 'Oops, I guess I miss calculated' and change the date." Walt said, "I hope Mr. Campings gets sued by all these people that have been following him. What are these poor people going to do on Monday when they realize they have no jobs, no belongings and probably no money?" Martha said, "I really, really feel sorry for the children of these people who have to spend these next few days terrified of the world ending Saturday evening, and the supposed mechanics of that, and then the issue of how will they will adjust to their reality for years to come."

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United blames glitch for reviving 9/11 flight numbers
May 18th, 2011
02:46 PM ET

United blames glitch for reviving 9/11 flight numbers

United Airlines blamed a technical glitch Wednesday for the brief return of flight numbers 93 and 175, designations retired after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

Airline spokesman Rahasaan Johnson told CNN the numbers will remain off the books and that the company apologizes for the error. He said the glitch occurred when two Continental Airlines flights that carried those numbers were redesignated as United flights as part of the merger between the two carriers.

The two United flights were among four hijacked jetliners used as missiles in the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Al Qaeda operatives plunged Flight 175 into the south tower of the World Trade Center, while Flight 93 crashed into a Pennsylvania field after its passengers attempted to resist their hijackers. The union that represents United's flight attendants criticized the revival of those numbers, calling it "a terrible misstep."

"If they're backing off, then good. It should never have happened in the first place," said Sara Nelson, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants. "We applaud any steps taken to ensure they're permanently retired, and that this doesn't happen again."

Nearly 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attacks, including the flight crews and passengers aboard all four jets. U.S. forces killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the man behind the massacre, in Pakistan in early May.

– CNN's Kara Devlin and Matt Smith contributed to this report.

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U.S. imposes tough sanctions against Syrian president, other officials
The U.S. imposed sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad and six other senior Syrian officials.
May 18th, 2011
01:38 PM ET

U.S. imposes tough sanctions against Syrian president, other officials

President Barack Obama Wednesday imposed tough sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and six other senior Syrian officials in an effort to stop the regime's fierce crackdown on protests, the U.S. Treasury Department said.

The sanctions also target two top Iranian officials whose unit was a "conduit for Iranian material support" to Syrian intelligence, according to a copy of the executive order issued by the White House.

Obama signed the order Wednesday, a move a senior administration official described as a "decisive step to increase pressure" on the Syrian government to end violence, intimidation and pressure "and begin transitioning to a democratic" process.

Condemning Syria's use of violence and intimidation against its people, the official said al-Assad "must put an end to the attacks on protesters, mass arrests and harassment" of citizens expressing rights and "must begin to introduce change."

The Syrian government has launched a clampdown on peaceful demonstrators since mid-March. The United Nations last week said as many as 850 people have died in the protests, and there have been thousands of arrests.

Along with al-Assad, the other senior Syrian officials are Farouk al-Shara, Prime Minister Adel Safar, Interior Minister General Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar, Defense Minister Ali Habib Mahmoud, the head of Syrian military Abdul Fatah Qudsiya and Mohammed Dib Zaitoun, head of Syrian military intelligence.

"As a result of this action, any property in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons in which the individuals listed in the Annex have an interest is blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them," the Treasury Department said in a statement detailing the steps.

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Gates, Mullen: No evidence top Pakistani leaders knew of bin Laden's presence
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen made the statement to reporters Wednesday.
May 18th, 2011
01:32 PM ET

Gates, Mullen: No evidence top Pakistani leaders knew of bin Laden's presence

[Updated at 1:32 p.m.] The United States has seen no evidence that the senior Pakistani leadership knew of Osama bin Laden's presence in Pakistan, Adm. Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters Wednesday.

The nation's top military officer said the extensive details told to the media about the Osama bin Laden raid is "jeopardizing precious capability."

"It is time to stop talking," the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Wednesday in answer to a question from CNN's Barbara Starr.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the agreement in the administration to not talk about the operational details of the raid "lasted about 15 hours."

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Filed under: Al Qaeda • Osama bin Laden • Pakistan • Terrorism
New kind of planet discovered
May 18th, 2011
01:00 PM ET

New kind of planet discovered

The planets in our solar system get along with each other pretty well. But sometimes when multiple planets orbit the same star, there’s a confrontation that is, the gravity of one planet interferes with another’s. In this way, smaller ones can get kicked out, left to float in the dark without a star to go around.

These “lonely planets” represent an entirely new category of planets, and are perhaps more numerous in our galaxy than stars, scientists report Wednesday in the journal Nature.

"It gives us a good clue about how planet formation works. It suggests that there's a lot of violent encounters between planets near the end of the planet formation process," said David Bennett, astronomer at the University of Notre Dame.

Bennett and colleagues discovered 10 such planets, each probably the size of Jupiter, in a survey called the Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics, which used a 5.9-foot telescope in New Zealand to scan our galaxy, the Milky Way.

These planets are likely gaseous, and would not be hospitable to life.

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Gotta Watch: When volcanoes erupt
Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano blackened the sky for days back in 2010.
May 18th, 2011
12:53 PM ET

Gotta Watch: When volcanoes erupt

In today's Gotta Watch, we're looking at the awesome power of some of the planet's most active volcanoes. From the easy-to-pronounce Mount St. Helens to another whose name you best not try to utter unless you're sitting down.

Mount St. Helens - On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted, becoming the most destructive volcano in United States history. An earthquake and subsequent landslide triggered a series of eruptions and a massive ash cloud. The blast was reportedly so powerful it was felt as far away as Canada. The eruption claimed the lives of 57 people and injured many more.

Eyjafjallajokull - Often refered to simply as "the Icelandic volcano" due to its tongue twister of a name, Eyjafjallajokull wreaked havoc for international travelers for the better part of a week back in 2010. At its peak, the crisis affected 1.2 million passengers a day and 29 percent of all global aviation, according to the International Air Transport Association, becoming the worst disruption of air traffic since the September 11 terrorist attacks back in 2001.

Merapi - The Merapi volcano's most recent eruption began on October 26, 2010. It killed hundreds of people and displaced more than 200,000. The Indonesian volcano's recent eruptions released about 140 million cubic meters of magma, the National Agency for Disaster Management said.

Mount Vesuvius - Just short of 2,000 years ago, the city of Pompeii was wiped off the map by a historic eruption that buried an entire city in ash. Pompeii is now a major tourist attraction and is considered one of Italy's most important archaeological sites. 

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Filed under: Earth • Environment • Gotta Watch • History • Iceland • Indonesia • Italy • Natural Disasters • U.S. • Uncategorized • Volcano • Volcanoes
Report: Denmark to lay claim to North Pole
The summer sun sheds light on an iceberg near the town of Ilulissat, Greenland.
May 18th, 2011
12:09 PM ET

Report: Denmark to lay claim to North Pole

The Kingdom of Denmark is preparing to claim ownership of the North Pole, according to a Danish media report.

In a document leaked to the Danish newspaper Information, Denmark will ask the United Nations to recognize the North Pole as a geologic extension of Greenland, the vast Arctic island that is a Danish territory. Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen confirmed the annexation attempt, Information reported.

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Filed under: Canada • Climate change • Denmark • Earth • Energy • North Pole • Norway • Russia • U.S.
May 18th, 2011
11:01 AM ET

Vicksburg, Mississippi, waits for record river levels

Nervous anticipation. That is the feeling permeating through Vicksburg, Mississippi, as it awaits a historic flood crest to wash through the area later this week.

The Mississippi River, already at record levels, is forecast to peak early Thursday more than a foot over the record set in the city in 1927.

As the waters rise, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is keeping a watchful eye on the Yazoo Backwater Levee.

"Once we hit the crest on the 19th, it's not over," Henry Dulaney with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told CNN affiliate WLBT-TV. "Water is going to be on the levee for another month. And so everything that we've told people, they need to be wary of that for another month, month and a half."

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Scientists: Oceans, clouds, rain possible on distant planet
A graphic shows surface temperature variations on Gliese 581d and how wind patterns would moderate the climate.
May 18th, 2011
10:57 AM ET

Scientists: Oceans, clouds, rain possible on distant planet

Astronomers in France say a rocky planet orbiting a star that's one of our closest galactic neighbors may have all the ingredients to make us earthlings feel right at home.

The planet Gliese 581d, orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581 about 20 light years from Earth, could support oceans, clouds and rainfall with a greenhouse effect that would moderate its temperatures, the team of scientists from the Institut Pierre Simon Laplace in Paris says in a study published this month in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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Wednesday's intriguing people
May 18th, 2011
10:41 AM ET

Wednesday's intriguing people

Saif al-Adel

CNN’s Peter Bergen has reported that al-Adel, wanted by the FBI in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, is now the interim leader of al Qaeda, following the death of Osama bin Laden.  Noman Benotman, a former militant, told Bergen that Saif al-Adel has been chosen "caretaker" leader. Meanwhile, The News International, a Pakistani newspaper, reported Tuesday that a Yemeni clerk named Muhammad Mustafa Yamni is slated to be the new al Qaeda chief, with al-Adel focusing on operations.

Al-Adel, who is in his early 50s, is among the FBI’s most wanted, with a $5 million bounty on his head. He is an Islamic jihadist who served in the Egyptian special forces. Yamni is living somewhere in Africa, reports said.

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Wednesday's live video events
May 18th, 2011
07:33 AM ET

Wednesday's live video events

Watch CNN.com Live for continuing coverage of the final mission of space shuttle Endeavour.

Today's programming highlights...

Ongoing coverage - Shuttle Endeavour mission

8:30 am ET - Casey Anthony trial - Jury selection continues in the trial of Casey Anthony, the Florida woman accused of killing her young daughter.

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Budget • Casey Anthony • Connecticut • Crime • District of Columbia • Economy • Florida • Military • On CNN.com today • Politics • Shuttle • Space • U.S.
On the Radar: 'Unabomber' auction; flood crest in Vicksburg
The U.S. Marshals Service shows some of the Unabomber's items that go up for auction Wednesday.
May 18th, 2011
06:35 AM ET

On the Radar: 'Unabomber' auction; flood crest in Vicksburg

"Unabomber" auction begins: The U.S. Marshals Service begins an online auction on Wednesday to sell the personal effects of  Ted Kaczynski, the "Unabomber."

Among about 60 items up for sale are personal documents such as driver's licenses, birth certificates and checks; academic transcripts; typewriters, and "more than 20,000 pages of written documents, including the original handwritten and typewritten versions" of Kaczynski's manifesto, authorities said.

The auction will be conducted by the General Services Administration, the Marshals said. A catalog of the items will be available on the GSA's auction website when the sale begins.

Proceeds will go to compensate some of his victims, who are owed $15 million in court-ordered restitution.

Kaczynski, now 68, killed three people and wounded 23 others in a string of bombings from 1978 to 1995. He was arrested in 1996, pleaded guilty in 1998 and is now serving a life term in the federal "Supermax" prison in Florence, Colorado.

The FBI dubbed him the "Unabomber" as shorthand for his early targets - universities and airlines.

Flood crest in Vicksburg: The Mississippi River is expected to crest in Vicksburg, Mississippi, early Thursday at more than a foot over the record level set in 1927.

And the cresting of the river doesn't mean residents can look forward to relief soon after.

"Once we hit the crest on the 19th, it's not over," Henry Dulaney with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told CNN affiliate WLBT-TV. "Water is going to be on the levee for another month. And so everything that we've told people, they need to be wary of that for another month, month and a half."

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Filed under: Crime • Justice