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Object of Interest Washes Ashore Amid Search for Missing Flight 370


(PERTH, Australia) -- An unidentified object washed ashore in Australia, and investigators are trying to determine if the object is related to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

According to a press release from Australian authorities, the item washed ashore near Augusta, on the country’s southwestern coastline.

The news has been shared with Malaysia officials, who are overseeing the overall search efforts.

Authorities believe the jet landed in the Indian Ocean, but have yet to find any evidence directly connected to the doomed plane.

The 777 jetliner was carrying 239 people when it went missing March 8.


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Madeleine McCann Probers Focus on Child Sex Attacker


JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)(LONDON) -- Detectives are investigating whether Madeleine McCann, the toddler who vanished in Portugal seven years ago, may have been abducted by a serial sex attacker.

One of those possible victims was a 10-year-old girl who was assaulted in 2005 in the same resort where Maddie vanished.

Scotland Yard has recently learned for the first time of five sexual assaults, and one attempted sexual assault, on British girls between 2004 and 2006. Police say they attach particular significance to one of the attacks: the sexual assault in 2005 of a British 10-year-old girl in Praia de Luz, the resort where Madeleine’s family were staying. That attack was not reported at the time.

McCann was 3 when she vanished from the family’s resort room in 2007 while her parents dined nearby.

These latest cases were brought to police attention after a public appeal for information last month.

Senior investigating officer Andy Redwood calls the new leads “extremely positive” and a “priority” for his investigation. Scotland Yard have requested case files for the six attacks from Portuguese police.

The British investigation is now examining 18 cases where a male intruder entered the apartments and villas of British vacationers in the Western Algarve region of Portugal. They include nine sexual assaults and three “near-misses,” officials said. The victims were all British girls aged between 6 and 12 years old. Fourteen of the attacks were reported to the police at the time.

Detective Chief Inspector Redwood says he is confident that some if not all of the cases are linked because of their “significant similarities.”

In order to protect the identities of the victims, police are not disclosing why some of the attacks were not reported earlier. While some of the attacks were known to police in Portugal, they were not considered relevant by them to the McCann case because they didn’t involve abduction.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt says he is “cautiously optimistic” that police in Portugal will soon move forward with Scotland Yard’s requests for help.

Senior British detectives have expressed frustration with the slow pace of the judicial process, and the cooperation they have received from their Portuguese counterparts.

Portuguese authorities have resisted British requests to form a joint investigation team.

In March police appealed for help regarding 12 cases of a male intruder entering vacation homes between 2004 and 2010. The man sexually assaulted five British girls aged between 7 and 10 in their beds.

They said that witnesses described the suspect as tanned, with short untidy hair. He spoke in English with a foreign accent and smelled strongly.

Scotland Yard has still not established the identity of a man seen by three witnesses carrying a child fitting Madeleine’s description on the night that she disappeared.

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Ferry Disaster Has Traumatized, Shamed South Korea


Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- The entire country of South Korea, which watched a ferry filled with high school students sink on live TV and has followed the futile search for survivors with 24/7 TV coverage, appears to be have been traumatized by the tragedy.

That trauma has been compounded by a collective shame over charges of criminal negligence by much of the ship's crew, inappropriate reactions by government officials and cruel hoaxes following the sinking.

Almost all entertainment programs that include music, comedy or drama have been cancelled. Attendance at movie theaters is off by as much as 40 percent. Fashion shows, sporting events and festivals for major cultural events have been put off through May.

“It’s not only the victims and their families but a majority of the general public is suffering from mental shock, sadness, rage, and feeling of helplessness,” read an editorial from Seoul Newspaper. “In short, it’s not an exaggeration to say that this entire nation is going through post-traumatic stress disorder.”

"After those nonstop broadcasts, personally this visual of cold water rising in the cabins with trapped kids dying a slow death was haunting me for days. I still cry for them," said Yong-sub Choi, vice president of value, culture and media for an investment company. His company has invested $1 million in a regional fireworks festival planned for early May, but decided to forsake half the investment and postpone it to August in honor of the victims.

The tragedy has riveted and horrified the country from the start. Cameras rushed to the ferry sinking as soon as the news broke and the population was mesmerized as it watched the tragedy unfold with students flailing in the cold water, the boat slowly turning upside down and eventually slipping beneath the surface.

Television viewers have barely looked away since the rescue efforts were broadcast without any break. The arrival of grief stricken families was recorded along with rough weather that hampered rescue efforts, and eventually the retrieval of bodies despite the prayers of a nation.

“It was so depressing, so I intentionally avoided watching TV at first,” said Jieun Kim, a mother of two children living in Seoul. “But it’s addictive. You keep wondering what happened. Gave up on the fourth day, and kept watching. My tears won’t stop. It’s uncontrollable.”

What has also taken a toll on the Korean psyche are the alleged acts of cowardice, callousness and cruel hoaxes.

Eleven of the ferry's crew, including the captain, have been taken into custody for actions that the South Korean president said were "murderous." Others would say craven.

In the days after the ferry sank, families were tormented with hoax text messages claiming to be from students trapped in air pockets complaining that they were cold, but still alive. A woman posed as one of the divers trying to rescue the trapped passengers was exposed as a fraud.

A photo of a government official sitting on a chair to eat ramen while the families of the ferry victims were eating on the floor circulated on South Korean social media and criticism poured in. The official ended up getting suspended and later fired from his post.

The response to the sinking has forced the nation to reassess what Korea has become.

A widely shared editorial on social networks from Saturday’s Joongang Ilbo concluded with a scathing self-criticism that, “A nation’s standards and capability is tested when disaster and crisis come by. Our country’s level is a failing grade and of a third-class country.”

“Korea is now depressed," an editorial in Hankyoreh newspaper said. "But for such collective depression to be rightly cured, this atmosphere should not be quickly changed nor forgotten.”

Choi added, "As a father, this burden is deep. I feel responsible for the deaths of those innocent young kids. Our generation have marched forward only looking ahead. It was all economic growth and wealth. We neglected to take effort to mature ethically."

“Koreans are very nationalistic and they take pride in the rapid development of their country. When there’s some problem or anything that reflects poorly on the collective, on the nation or Koreans on the whole, people will get upset about it,” said Daniel Pinkson, head of International Crisis Group in Seoul.

Yellow ribbons have proliferated on Korean social media and the country has held candlelight vigils, but those gestures have gone only so far.

“Koreans want to share everything together," said Sulim Park, public relations manager of Italian shoe brand, Tod’s. The company cancelled three shows and events out of respect for the ferry victims. "My family or friends were not personally affected by this tragedy, but call it nationalism or whatever, but we try to share the grief together.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Report: Divorced, Remarried Woman Can Have Communion, Pope Says


iStock / 360/Thinkstock(ROME) -- Could there be a switch in Catholic doctrine?

Pope Francis has reportedly phoned a divorced and remarried Catholic woman in Argentina to tell her that she could "safely receive Communion." 

Italian news media report the pope called Jacquleina Sabetta in response to a letter she had written to him.

Catholic doctrine dictates that divorced people can receive communion, but divorced and remarried people cannot.

The pope apparently told her the issue is under discussion.

The Vatican said it neither confirms nor denies the call.

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Bashar al-Assad’s Deadly Loophole in Syria Deal


JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration’s top accomplishment on Syria -- a deal in which President Bashar al-Assad would surrender his chemical weapons -- risks being undermined by substantial, potentially deadly loopholes in the agreement.

Secretary of State John Kerry touted on Tuesday the fact that Syria had given up almost all its declared chemical weapons and would finish the process by the end-of-April deadline.

“We now have the majority percentage of chemical weapons moved out of Syria, and we’re moving on schedule to try to complete that task,” he said at a State Department event.

But events in Syria paint a more complicated picture of Assad’s continued ability to kill civilians with chemical weapons.

Earlier this month, the Assad regime allegedly used chlorine gas -- a weapon Syria is not required to relinquish -- against civilians in the town of Kafr Zita, causing victims to suffocate, choke, vomit, foam at the mouth and develop hypertension, according to a letter from the head of the Syrian Coalition, a Western-approved opposition group, to the United Nations Security Council.

In the letter, Syrian Coalition representative Najib Ghadbian urged investigators from the joint mission between the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to inspect a research center in Damascus that allegedly produces Syria’s chlorine gas.

The U.S. State Department said earlier this week that it has “indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical, probably chlorine” in Kafr Zita. “We’re examining allegations that the government was responsible.”

The Assad regime has not responded to the allegations and ABC News calls to Syria’s Mission to the U.N. were not returned.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday that “there are remaining concerns about the brutality of the Assad regime,” but she defended the deal that has stripped the Syrian government of much of its chemical arsenal.

“The point here is that we’ve removed 86 percent of the most harmful chemicals. That still is a positive step,” Psaki said.

Ghadbian noted that the use of chemical weapons does violate a second provision of the deal Syria agreed to in the fall, U.N. Security Council Resolution 2118: it had to sign on to what’s known as the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the “development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons.”

Should such a U.N./OPCW investigation find that Syria did use chlorine gas on civilians, the U.N. Security Council would have authority under Chapter 7 of its charter to punish the regime.

But so far, said Oubai Shahbandar, spokesman for the Syrian Coalition, the Security Council hasn’t discussed inspecting production sites or punishing for the regime for its alleged use of chlorine weapons.

Any Security Council decision would also have to get the approval of Russia, a permanent member and ally of Syria. Because that’s unlikely to happen, Shahbandar said, the onus falls on the United States to hold the regime accountable.

“Assad continues to press his luck because he believes he can get away with it,” Shahbandar said. “It is now time that he does not.”

The United States acknowledged that confirming beyond doubt that the regime used chlorine gas would be difficult.

“The time required to conduct any investigation of alleged CW use would be dependent on the circumstances surrounding the investigation, not least of all the cooperation of the host country,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Assad can continue to inflict chlorine gas attacks on civilians, knowing that the hands of the international community, especially the United States, are tied, said Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“I think [his actions] are based on a calculation that Obama just doesn’t want to do anything,” Tabler said.

The deal agreed to in the fall, which President Obama touted at the time as a diplomatic way to avoid airstrikes on Syria, also omits the destruction of Syria’s 12 production and storage facilities where Syria might be hiding additional chemical weapons that it simply did not declare to the OPCW,  Tabler states.

Critics of the administration’s approach towards Syria have urged the United Nations to expand its mandate to include facility destruction, but there’s little chance that would happen either, given Russia’s veto power.

The more likely scenario, Tabler said, is that the April deadline for Syria to give up its chemical weapons will come and go, but the regime’s killings of civilians with chemical weapons will continue.

“In the course of one week we’re going to find that the regime is not complying. It’s good to get all of those chemical weapons out of there, but the regime is doing it in such a way that it’s not solving the problem, it’s just tightening the grip on power,” Tabler said.

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Death Toll Mounts in South Korean Ferry Sinking


JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- One week after a ferry sank off the coast of South Korea, the death toll continues to climb.

As of Wednesday, at least 156 people have been confirmed dead with 146 others still missing. There are 174 known survivors, including all 12 of the ferry's crew.

The updated death count comes as South Korean prosecutors are considering charges of accidental homicide against the captain, third mate and helmsman of the ferry, which sank last Wednesday. Most of the victims were high school students on the ferry for a field trip.

According to prosecutors, Captain Lee Joon-seok, 68, initially told passengers to stay in their rooms and waited more than half an hour to issue an evacuation order as the ferry sank. By then, the ship had tilted so much that many of the missing were not able to escape.

Divers reached the interior of the sunken ferry earlier this week but their mission has been made more difficult by murky waters and strong currents. The search involves areas of the vessel where passengers were told to stay.

As of Wednesday, weather conditions had improved. The recovery effort also involves 212 boats, 34 aircraft and 550 rescue workers.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Ukraine Security Chief: At Least 130 Russian Officers Leading Efforts in Eastern Ukraine


Genya Savilov//AFP/Getty Images(KIEV, Ukraine) -- At least 130 members of the Russian intelligence service and military are leading uprising efforts in Eastern Ukraine, the director of Ukraine's national security service said Tuesday.

In a Google Hangout sponsored by the Atlantic Council, security official Valentyn Nalyvaichenko explained there were as many as 30 special troops or officers of Russia's intelligence service, the GRU, working in the Slaviansk region, plus another 100 in Donetsk.

"They are not alone," he added, saying that they recruited pro-Russian locals.

The information was provided through three GRU officers detained and questioned by Ukraine, and Nalyvaichenko says they have already identified "two main organizers" responsible for unrest in the region. A criminal investigation has been launched.

The security chief also confirmed reports that a military plane in Sloviansk was hit by gunfire. Addressing Ukraine's response to the crisis, he explained Kiev's best option to "calm down the situation" is to obtain more funding from the central government to provide "more support to maintain normal life" for local authorities, according to the Atlantic Council.

Nalyvaichenko also cited reliance on international civilian mediators from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to help persuade pro-Russian separatists to stand down.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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US To Deliver Helicopters to Egypt, Clears Partial Military Assistance


iStock/Thinkstock(CAIRO) -- The United States cleared Egypt to receive some military assistance, following a conversation Tuesday between Secretary of State John Kerry and Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy.

The Obama administration approved the delivery of 10 Apache helicopters in support of Egypt's counterterrorism operations in Sinai, in hopes that it will help the country's government counter extremists threatening American, Egyptian, and Israeli security.

In a call with Fahmy, Kerry informed the foreign minister that Egypt is sustaining its relationship with the United States and upholding its obligations under the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. Though he addressed the country's importance as a "strategic partner" for the U.S., Kerry said "he is not yet able to certify that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition," according to a statement by State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

In addition to the secretary of state's conversation, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke with Egyptian Minister of Defense Col. Gen. Sedki Sobhy on Tuesday to inform him of the upcoming military assistance.

"This is one element of the president's broader efforts to work with partners across the region to build their capacity to counter terror threats, and is the United States' national security interest," a readout from Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby explained.

Still, full certification that Egypt is on a path to democracy is needed for further aid.  Hagel urged the Egyptian government to show progress on "a more inclusive transition" respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.

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American Journalist with Vice News Detained in Ukraine


iStock/Thinkstock(SLOVIANSK, Ukraine) -- An American journalist has been reportedly detained by unidentified people in uniform in Eastern Ukraine.

Simon Ostrovsky, a reporter with Vice News, was captured. Vyacheslav Ponomarev, the self-proclaimed "People's Mayor" of Sloviansk, announced the journalist's detention, according to media reports Tuesday from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The U.S. Department of State, aware of the incident, released a statement acknowledging reports of a U.S. citizen being detained in Ukraine, but did not specify Ostrovsky.

"The Department of State takes its obligation to assist U.S. citizens abroad seriously and stands ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance," the statement read.

Vice News tweeted Tuesday: "We are aware of @SimonOstrovsky's situation and are working to ensure the safety and security of our friend and colleague."

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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US Appoints Special Representative for Central African Republic


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- As fighting in the Central African Republic continues, the United States announced the appointment of a special representative to the area on Tuesday.

The Bureau of African Affairs reported the designation of Ambassador W. Stuart Symington as Special Representative for the Central African Republic. In his role, Symington will help shape and coordinate U.S. strategy to assist in ending violence in the region. He will also address humanitarian needs and aid in the establishment of "legitimate governance," according to a statement from the State Department.

Ambassador Symington served as the U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda and Djibouti, as well as Deputy Chief of Mission in Niger. He is set to work with the African Union, European Union, and United Nations, among other partners, to address issues in the area.

Chaos and extreme violence have plagued the CAR following accusations of government corruption. Rebel groups have fought back in retaliation, and increasing tensions have resulted in the brutal deaths of thousands.

In an effort to combat the ongoing crisis, the United States committed up to $100 million this year to support African Union and French forces working to restore security for residents in the CAR. This is in addition to nearly $67 million in humanitarian aid and $7.5 million for conflict mitigation and human rights programs.

"Ultimately, however, the people of the CAR hold their future in their own hands," read a statement from the State Department. "We continue to urge all parties in CAR to end the violence, establish judicial mechanisms for ensuring accountability for those suspected of perpetrating human rights abuses, and move ahead toward an inclusive political transition process leading to democratic elections in February 2015 and a better future for all Central Africans."

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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South Korea Ferry Victim Who Gave Friend Life Jacket Laid to Rest


Kim Doo-Ho/AFP/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Before he dove into the cold and murky waters of South Korea's southwest coast, Jung Cha-Woong gave his life jacket to a scared classmate, saving his friend’s life as the ferry they were on began to sink into the sea.

But 17-year-old Jung wasn’t so lucky. He was among the hundreds who didn’t survive the doomed ferry that capsized off the country’s coast on April 16, ABC News’ Joohee Cho reports. His family has since laid him to rest.

“I can’t believe it,” the teen’s mother wailed over and over, later collapsing over her son’s school desk, sobbing and unable to stand on her own two feet.

Witnesses remembered Jung as a hero.

The rescue operation in South Korea is ongoing.

 


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Kim Jong-un's Baby Photos Foreshadow His Future


Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- Kim Jong-un’s baby photos surfaced Tuesday through Korean Central Television, North Korea's state broadcaster.

The youngest son of Kim Jong-il eventually became his father's successor as leader of the reclusive country.

The baby photos that surfaced on Tuesday foreshadowed his future as a four-star general and eventually army supreme commander of North Korea. Kim Jong-un is estimated to have been born in 1983 or early 1984 -- it is not known for sure.

In North Korea, parents sometimes adorn their children in military apparel and have them compete for badges in school.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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US Sending Troops to Countries Neighboring Russia for Exercises


U.S. Army Photo by Visual Information Specialist Markus Rauchenberger(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. is sending about 600 Army soldiers to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia -- all Russian neighbors -- for bilateral training exercises prompted by the situation in Ukraine. 

Company-sized elements of about 150 soldiers from the 173rd Airborne based in Italy will be placed in each of the countries for infantry exercises that will take place between now and the coming months. The first group of troops will arrive in Poland on Wednesday.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday that the goal is to a have “a persistent rotational presence in these exercises,” which will last about a month. The soldiers will then be rotated out with fresh troops for additional exercises that will last the rest of the year.

Kirby acknowledged that these are new exercises that have been developed with the four countries as a result of the situation in Ukraine.

“These exercises were conceived and added onto the -- added onto the exercise regimen as a result of what's going on in Ukraine,” he said.

He said the message was to the people of the four countries “that the United States takes seriously our obligations under Article 5 of the -- of the NATO alliance even though these aren't NATO exercises.”

As for a message to Russia, Kirby said the exercises send the same message: “We take our obligations very, very seriously on the continent of Europe.”

He called the exercises “a very tangible representation of our commitment to our security obligations in Europe and the messages to the people of those countries and to the alliance that we do take it seriously.” 

He said the U.S. encouraged other NATO countries to do the same.

As for Russian intentions for the Baltic region, Kirby said, “You need to ask [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin what his intentions are. What I'll tell you is that nothing we've seen out of Moscow, nothing we've seen out of Russia or their armed forces, is de-escalating the tension, is making things any more stable in Ukraine or on the continent of Europe.”

Kirby also announced that in coming days the frigate USS Taylor will replace the destroyer USS Donald Cook that has been sailing in the Black Sea for exercises with partner nations. He was hesitant to use the term replace as he noted that the U.S. does not have a continuing presence in the Black Sea.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Death Toll in South Korean Ferry Rises to 121


NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Nearly a week after a ferry sank off the coast of South Korea, the death toll has continued to climb.

As of Tuesday, at least 121 people have been confirmed dead in the tragedy, with 181 others still missing. There are 174 known survivors, including all 12 of the ferry's crew.

The updated death count comes as South Korean prosecutors are considering charges of accidental homicide against the captain, third mate and helmsman of the ferry, which sank last Wednesday.

According to prosecutors, Captain Lee Joon-seok, 68, initially told passengers to stay in their rooms and waited more than half an hour to issue an evacuation order as the ferry sank. By then, the ship had tilted so much that many of the missing could not have escaped.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Mt. Everest Hopeful Saw Friend Killed, Now Works for Sherpas


Esther Lee(NEW YORK) -- Ed Marzec spent two years and more than $100,000 in an attempt to climb Mount Everest, only to get as close as a high altitude base camp where an avalanche killed his friend and crushed his ambition to reach the peak.

Marzec, 67, watched as a behemoth sheet of ice cracked on Friday and buried the Sherpa, his close friend, who was to lead him to the mountain’s top. At least 12 others were also killed in the avalanche, the most deadly climbing accident in Everest’s history. Three additional Sherpas are missing and presumed dead.

“We heard this crack and everyone’s head went up,” a tearful Marzec told ABC News in a phone call from the base camp in Nepal. “I saw a probably 150-foot section of ice just break loose and come straight down.”

“This huge piece of ice broke into other pieces -- the sizes of buses, houses, cars -- and there was nothing they could do. They couldn’t go forward, they couldn’t go back,” he said.

Four days after the avalanche, Marzec is still at base camp, determined to help the Sherpas' families and see to it that the government begins paying them a fair wage.

On Friday, the Sherpas had left ahead of Marzec and other foreigners to set up camp, carrying tents and equipment.

One of the bodies presumably buried in the ice belongs to Ash Gurung, 28, a Sherpa and father of two who had saved Marzec’s life on an earlier trek when the retired Los Angeles attorney slipped off a trail at Yala Peak in Nepal.

“All of a sudden I see this body jumping at me. He went out of his way, grabbed me and pushed me back on the trail. It saved my life,” Marzec said. “I was so shocked by this. Even your family members -- think about it, who would do that for you?”

Now Marzec is plagued by guilt.

“I think of my close friend, lying up there and I can see where he is at,” Marzec said. “I am looking from my tent and I can see the dark spot where he was buried under the ice.”

Marzec had hoped to become the oldest man to summit Everest.

“I’ve worked two years getting in shape, spent large amounts of money, but my sacrifice is nothing compared to the sacrifice of those 16 men for all of us,” he said.

Sherpas told The Guardian they have decided to abandon climbing season this year after the horrific deaths.

Marzec respects their wishes and has shifted his focus to helping the families of the fallen Sherpas.

“That’s more important than just climbing the mountain,” he said.

Sherpas are boycotting for Nepal’s government to provide more insurance money and financial aid for victims' families.

Marzec has launched an online fund to raise cash for Gurung’s family, and another to support Sherpas who will be out of work this season.

“I’m sitting right here looking at bags in front of his tent that belong to Ash, and have all of his worldly belongings in them,” he said. “They’re taking them back to his wife and family. And it’s very difficult to deal with this and to see this.”

“Everest is a very raw place. There is no room for emotions. But this is hard for me,” Marzec added.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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