By Ben Clark
This article is about the Travel lowlights and highlights of the year. My sincere wish is that you may find some valuable info herein to assist in your personal trip planning, e.g., airlines, travel agencies, and cruise lines to avoid; fatal islands of the Caribbean Sea, ways to fake a vacation and save money, some choice side trips, illegal ways to obtain an American passport, and FFS stay the hell away from Mount Everest. Keep on Traveling!
The Boeing 737 Max 8 grounded worldwide after two fatal crashes with eerie parallels
March 13, 2019 – via wsj Staff (WSJ has a paywall, sometimes)
Update August 16, 2019 – The Boeing 737 Max 8 is still grounded after five months. Read an impressive, detailed recap of the “Fatal battle between man and machine” in the WSJ here.
Update August 31, 2019 – As reported by Bloomberg news, Boeing outsourced the faulty Max 8 MCAS code to India in order to save money. Do the math on that genius business decision. Airlines are making plans to keep the Max 8 grounded until 2020.
Viking cruise ship narrowly misses major maritime disaster
“In Search of the Northern Lights” becomes a PR nightmare for Viking
March 23, 2019 via the Independent
The Viking Sky cruise ship lost [all] power as it sailed toward Stavanger, Norway in heavy seas and wind today. The cruise ship issued a mayday call and many passengers were evacuated from the cruise ship via helicopter as the ship rocked back and forth in stormy weather.
Passengers were reportedly being hoisted by rescue helicopters from the stranded cruise ship as strong winds pushed the ship toward the Hustadvika coast of Norway, which is considered one of the most dangerous parts of the Norwegian coast, with many shipwrecks in this area during rough weather.
“It was very nearly a disaster. The ship drifted to within 100 meters of running aground before they were able to restart one of the engines,” stated police chief Hans Vik, who heads the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre for southern Norway, according to Reuters. Around 1,300 passengers and crew were originally on the ship.
Update March 24, 2019: According to the Independent, the two year old Viking Sky was sailing on a two-week “In Search of the Northern Lights” voyage. .. Viking Cruises says: Currently we understand 20 people suffered injuries as a result of this incident, and they are all receiving care at the relevant medical centers in Norway, with some already having been discharged. Viking Sky will stay in port in Molde [Norway] while repairs are carried out. Her next voyage to Scandinavia…has been cancelled.”
Viking Sky cruise ship engines failed because of low oil levels, maritime official says
The investigation has figured out the reason for the engines shutting down, but that is only half the problem. A mechanical mishap is to be expected now and then, so it is up the Captain and his/her crew to react promptly and efficiently to a failure in order to maintain the safety of the ship. It is a matter of training and knowledge – in this case the Viking crew reacted with the speed of a land tortoise. The crew was pathetically slow pokey in getting those engines back on line. Was this because of a design flaw, or inadequate crew training (or both)? Get back to work Lars.
Update March 27, 2019 via USA Today staff
The Viking Sky cruise ship that had to be evacuated off the coast of Norway over the weekend had low oil levels that led to engine failure, according to the Norwegian Maritime Authority, which has been investigating the incident…to identify why the cruise ship suffered a power blackout Saturday. Lars Alvestad, the head of Norway's Maritime Authority, said Wednesday that low oil levels were the "direct cause" of the engine failure that stranded the Viking Sky on Saturday. The NMA indicated in a press release that while oil in the tanks was relatively low, it was within set limits. But as the ship crossed rocky seas, movement of oil in the tanks triggered an alarm. Norwegian media reported gusts up to 43 mph and waves over 26 feet. "The heavy seas in Hustadvika probably caused movements in the tanks so large that the supply to the lubricating oil pumps stopped," Alvestad said. "This triggered an alarm indicating a low level of lubrication oil, which in turn shortly thereafter caused an automatic shutdown of the engines."
Fire at famed Notre Dame Cathedral
Centuries old wooden roof destroyed
April 16, 2019 via AP staff & HouseClark
Paris, France – The nearly 900-year-old cathedral has endured the French Revolution, Prussian invaders, and the Nazi occupation, but the Paris landmark suffered a truly unlucky day today. As can be seen in the photo below, a huge fire engulfed the roof and the massive spire. City officials say the cause of the fire was an accident by construction workers doing restoration work.
I toured the ND Cathedral in 2016 and will never forget the grandeur of the towering arches and stained glass windows. No worries, the Europeans have medieval building restoration down to a science due to the many, many projects done post-WW2. I’ll bet you one French omelet the basilica will be rebuilt and look better than ever, and safer too, with a fireproof roof. As we approach year end, the French are still squabbling about the new ND design and are wasting time. I have plans to visit France in 2020 and will hop on a train to see the Chartres Cathedral, a magnificent Gothic church in a quaint French town not far from Paris.
28 Dead after River Tour Boat Sinks in Danube River, Hungary
Only 7 people rescued
This story really captured my interest because I had just returned from a Danube riverboat cruise when this story broke. I too, had sailed past the impressive Hungarian Parliament building, under the Margrit Bridge and then returned to our dock in Budapest. Below is a photo I took from the top deck of the Avalon Impression. Do not let this incident scare you away – The Danube river cruise is safe, fun, and filled with scenic areas.
May 30, 2019 via bbnews Staff - BUDAPEST, Hungary – Rescue workers scoured the Danube River in downtown Budapest Thursday for 21 people missing after a sightseeing boat, identified as the Hableany (Mermaid – 89 ft), carrying South Korean tourists sank in a matter of seconds after colliding with a much larger Viking riverboat (440 ft) during an evening cruise. Seven people are confirmed dead and seven were rescued, all of them South Koreans, Hungarian officials said. Police launched a criminal investigation into the incident. Nineteen South Koreans and two Hungarian crew members – the captain and his assistant – are reported missing.
The sunken boat was located early Thursday near the Margit Bridge, not far from the neo-Gothic Parliament building on the riverbank. Video displayed by Hungarian police showed the sightseeing boat, traveling closely side by side and in the same direction as the Viking cruise ship as they approached the bridge Wednesday night.
The Hableany then appeared to steer slightly to its left, into the path of the 440+ ft Viking Sigyn cruise ship, which continued to sail on the same course. The two collided and the sightseeing boat was then seen tipping on its side between the bridge’s two supports. “As the Viking comes into contact with (the Hableany), the smaller boat overturns and in about seven seconds, it sinks,” Police Col. Adrian Pal said.
The river, which is 450 meters (500 yards) wide at the point of the accident, was fast-flowing and rising as heavy rain continued in the city. Water temperatures were about 10 to 12 degrees Celsius (50-53 Fahrenheit).
UPDATE – June 12, 2019 AFP — Hungarian rescue teams recovered more bodies on Tuesday as they recovered the sightseeing boat (Hableany) that sank in the river Danube in Budapest last month. Only seven of the 35 people on board survived the accident. The captain of the river cruise boat, the Viking Sigyn, has been arrested by Budapest police on suspicion of “endangering waterborne traffic resulting in multiple deaths”. On Monday the Sigyn was again searched by Hungarian police. According to a popular cruise blog, the captain has been identified as Yurily Chaplinsky from Odessa, Ukraine.
2019 USA tourist death count at Dominican Republic resorts rises to 11
The DR was in the news often this summer – all bad news. They have a major PR wreck. Americans are cancelling trips by the thousands.
July 15, 2019 – via abc7chicago – A Georgia man died in the Dominican Republic in March, the State Department confirmed Friday. ABC News has confirmed 31-year-old Tracy Jerome Jester, Jr., of Forsyth, Georgia, died on March 17. Jester is the 11th American confirmed to have died in the country since June 2018…
June 22, 2019 – By NYPost Staff – Vito Caruso, 56 of NY, died suddenly on June 17 while staying at the Boca Chica Resort in DR. Caruso is among three tourists in the past month and at least 11 in 2019 who died while vacationing in the DR. Dozens more have reported illnesses.
June 17, 2019 – AVENEL, New Jersey. Via 6abc.com – A State Department official confirms the death of another American tourist in the Dominican Republic last week, the ninth to die while on vacation in that country this year. Joseph Allen, 55, of Avenel, New Jersey, was found dead on the floor of his hotel room at Terra Linda in Sosua on the morning of June 13, his sister, Jamie Reed, confirmed to ABC on a phone interview.
Leyla Cox, 53, died June 10 in her hotel room, Excellence Resorts in Punta Cana confirmed to CNN on Sunday. Officials in the Dominican Republic have called the deaths isolated events.
Updated Jun 17 2019 – PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic – About half the members of a Jimmy Buffett fan club from Oklahoma who traveled to the Dominican Republic in April got sick, the group’s travel agent confirmed. Dana Flowers, the group’s travel agent, said about 54 out of the 114 visitors who stayed at the Hotel Riu Palace Macao in Punta Cana fell ill during the trip.
June 17 2019 – PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic – A group of Oklahoma teens’ senior trip to the Dominican Republic was ruined when they fell sick with a mysterious illness. The recent Deer Creek High School graduates flew on June 8 to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana, where at least two Americans have died and others have fallen ill this year.
June 2019 – A couple more unrelated yet disturbing incidents; a Delaware woman claims she was beaten senseless by a man on the Punta Cuna staff, and retired MLB star David Ortiz was shot and wounded Sunday at a club in the Dominican Republic, reports said. Ortiz is in serious but stable condition at a local hospital.
Company will superimpose your photo into fake vacation destinations
If you are one of the many thousands of Americans who canceled their DR vacation, then I suggest you consider using this company’s services. This is also perfect for the Facebook posers who absolutely love posting bullshitty photos.
April 24th, 2019 via 6abc Staff
You’ve heard of stay-cations, but how about fake-cations? A business called Fake a Vacation is allowing people to do just that. The Nebraska-based company will superimpose pictures of you on backdrops of Hawaii, the Grand Canyon, and other popular places. The company says people do it because they want to make their social media accounts look like they’re leading way more interesting lives. Some do it because their actual vacation was canceled. It may seem silly, but one survey of 4,000 people found 10 percent had posted fake vacation pictures. Now, there is a 72-hour turnaround on the Fake a Vacation website. It also costs money, anywhere from $17 to $80. Below are some ads from the website.
Floatplanes carrying cruise ship passengers on sightseeing trips collide in midair near Ketchikan, Alaska – 6 Killed
Talk about it being your unlucky day. Maybe certain attractions are just too popular. Alaska has suffered a rash of small plane crashes and is in the process of revamping and improving the local air control systems.
Updated: May 14, 2019 via Anchorage Daily News Staff
Six people died when two floatplanes carrying passengers from the same cruise ship collided in midair over George Inlet near Ketchikan. A total of 16 people were on the two planes and 10 people were rescued, U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Jon-Paul Rios said… All Fourteen of the passengers involved [in the mid-air collision] came off the Royal Princess, a Carnival Corp megaship on its inaugural Alaska cruise.
Eleven climbers have died this season on Mount Everest
Overcrowding a factor as human traffic jams form near summit
May 27, 2019 via kdvr.com Fox 31 news
Boulder, Colorado attorney Christopher Kulish, 62, picked an expensive way to die. He was found dead near the 29,035 foot summit on Monday. This follows three climbers that died after summiting the world’s tallest mountain last Thursday. That makes eleven fatalities on the famed Himalayan mountain this season, including American Donald Lynn Cash, 55, from Utah, who collapsed from altitude sickness on his way down the mountain last week.
Also this week, Indian climber Anjali Kulkarni, 55, died on her journey back down last Thursday. Her son told CNN that she became stuck in the “traffic jam” above Camp 4 (the final camp before the summit at 26,247 feet). And a climber with Swiss outfitter Kobler was the third fatality that day, also dying while descending the mountain.
Crowds are believed to have contributed to several of these recent deaths, as the congestion leaves climbers exposed longer to the dangerous wind, cold and lack of oxygen at the highest natural point in the world. (In fact, so many people have been climbing that piles of garbage and human waste are becoming an issue.)
Raja Gupta took one of the several viral photos showing a long line of climbers winding along the ridge up to the Everest summit. He wrote on Facebook that he was among roughly 320 people attempting the “summit push” last Wednesday. "It was very crowded," Gupta said. "I have guided trips for five years, and I've never seen such a year. We lost about three hours waiting at the most difficult part of the rock." Climbers call the area above 26,000 feet the "death zone," because the air is so thin that supplemental oxygen is critical. "And that's very dangerous if you run out of oxygen, you can die within a couple of hours," Gupta explained.
More than 200 people have died on Mount Everest’s peak since 1922. And due in part to the difficulty and expense of retrieval, most bodies are left on the mountain, and are believed to be buried beneath the snow.
American Airlines mechanic charged with aircraft sabotage
Thank God for security cameras. Due to several bad business decisions, I expect American Airlines to be the next major carrier to fail.
September 6, 2019 via Yahoo news
New York (AFP) - An American Airlines mechanic on Friday was due to appear in court on charges he tampered with an aircraft over stalled union negotiations that he said harmed him financially. US prosecutors have charged Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani with interfering with part of an aircraft fight data system, causing the grounding of a July flight from Miami to the Bahamas, according to a criminal complaint filed Thursday in Miami. Alani is due to appear before a judge later Friday. The maximum possible penalty for the violation is 20 years in jail, said a spokeswoman for the US Attorney's Office in Miami.
The plane carrying 150 passengers and crew was taken out of service before takeoff due to an error in the air data module system. Alani was identified in surveillance footage as having entered the aircraft earlier in the morning. Alani admitted to the FBI that he had inserted a piece of foam into the ADM inlet and applied super glue to prevent the foam from coming off, according to an FBI affidavit...
Bail denied in aircraft sabotage case
American Airlines mechanic suspected of being sympathetic with Islamic terrorists
Update September 18, 2019 via APnews.com
MIAMI (AP) — A mechanic accused of sabotaging an American Airlines jetliner had expressed a desire for Allah to hurt non-Muslims, stored violent Islamic State videos on his cellphone and has a brother in Iraq involved with the extremist group ISIS, according to new evidence unveiled at his bail hearing Wednesday.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Chris McAliley cited those revelations from prosecutors in ordering pretrial detention for Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani at the hearing in Miami federal court. Alani is accused of disabling a critical navigation component on the Boeing 737, which had 150 passengers and crew aboard.
Other evidence revealed Wednesday including that Alani recently sent a $700 wire transfer to someone in Iraq — where he has extended family — and that he traveled to Iraq in March but did not disclose that to authorities after his arrest.
Alani also previously worked for Alaska Airlines. Business Insider reported that Alani worked for both American and Alaska from 1998 until 2008. He was fired from Alaska Airlines following a series of maintenance mistakes, and Alani was also accused of clocking into both jobs at the same time.
Chinese Woman Admits to Running a ‘Birth Tourism’ Scheme
How did she get caught? No mention in the article. Allow me to explain (hint- read the last paragraph). She got too flashy and greedy- someone in the know got jealous and tipped off the feds.
September 17, 2019 via ktla5 staff
Los Angeles - A Chinese woman living in Irvine, California pleaded guilty Tuesday to running a business that charged pregnant Chinese women upwards of $40,000 for coaching on getting into the U.S. to give birth and secure American citizenship for their children. Dongyuan Li, 41, is the first to be convicted in the broad scheme in which 19 others are also accused, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Santa Ana said.
Li (see photo at left) admitted to one count of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud and one count of visa fraud, prosecutors said. Within two years, Li's firm - You Win USA Vacation Services — based in Orange County — was able to rake in millions by catering to wealthy pregnant women and Chinese government officials, instructing them on how to circumvent visa requirements and avoid detection, according to the federal indictment.
The so-called "birth tourism" scheme charged each client between $40,000 and $80,000, and the expectant mothers would be lodged in one of 20 apartments around Irvine that Li controlled, authorities said. Prosecutors say You Win claimed to have served more than 500 customers, and Li received $3 million in international wire transfers over the course of the scheme.
To get into the U.S., the company allegedly told clients to provide false information on visa applications and to immigration agents. Li also admitted to coaching customers on how to pass their consulate interview, including lying about how long they planned to stay in America, officials said. Customers would book two flights, stopping in Hawaii before continuing to Los Angeles, because the company thought clearing customs would be easier on the island, according to the plea agreement. Authorities say the women were also taught to conceal their pregnancies while traveling.
In entering her plea, Li agreed to forfeit more than $850,000, a Murrieta residence worth more than $500,000 and several Mercedes-Benz vehicles, officials said. Li is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 16, when she'll face a maximum possible sentence of 15 years in federal prison.
Giant Tapestry immortalizes ‘Game of Thrones'
I plan to visit France in 2020 and catch this exhibit while in Bayeux
September 20, 2019 via NYpost.com
BAYEUX, France — Fans who have flocked in their thousands to see the embroidered artwork are giving it a thumbs-up…At 87 meters (285 feet), the tapestry is longer than the width of a soccer field and longer than the famous 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry that recounts the Norman invasion of England in 1066. That tapestry served as an inspiration for the “Game of Thrones” (GOT) lookalike.
Obvious parallels between the two tapestries include the embroidery styles, colors and structures. Both are divided into three segments, with their central storylines running through the middle bordered by smaller panels displaying motifs like winged beasts or weaponry. The two works evoke similar themes of violent conquest and feudal loyalties.
The Bayeux Tapestry is thought to have been commissioned by William the Conqueror’s brother. It tells the story of William’s conquest of England with vivid scenes of battle and palace intrigue. It attracts nearly 400,000 visitors annually and Bayeux officials hope the “Game of Thrones” exhibit will grow that number.
The tapestry begins with fictional King Robert Baratheon visiting the Stark family in Winterfell and ends with the final scenes from the eighth and last season. It took a 30-strong team of volunteer embroiderers in Northern Ireland nearly four months to stitch the tapestry in 2017, adding final scenes after “Games of Thrones” finished airing in May… Scenes depicting Daenerys Targaryen with her dragons, and Jaime Lannister getting his hand chopped off have proved particularly popular with the exhibit visitors.
For your convenience, I inserted a GOT character guide - see below.
UK's Thomas Cook Collapses After Rescue Talks Fail - 150,000+ Travelers Stranded
Beware of this outfit. It will go into receivership and continue to operate, probably under a new brand.
September 23, 2019 via ZH
Becoming the latest European travel company to fail and leave its customers stranded, 178-year-old Thomas Cook collapsed [into bankruptcy] after failing to secure a deal with its creditors, leaving the British government to step in and rescue the as many as 150,000 customers who are reportedly now looking for a ride home.
Thomas Cook CEO Peter Fankhauser apologized to customers "following a decision of the board late last night, a British government receiver has been appointed early this morning...we have not been able to secure a deal to save our business...I know that this outcome will cause a lot of anxiety, stress and disruption." The company, weighed down by debt, said Friday that it was looking for $369 million in financing over the weekend to avoid going under on Monday. [The deal failed to happen.] All bookings made through the company have been invalidated, the company said [nobody knows exactly the number of cancelations – could be as high as 500,000]. Thomas Cook typically runs hotels, resorts, airlines and cruises for 19 million customers a year in 16 countries.
Sex assaults on cruise ships up 67% this summer
Beware the toxic combination of alcohol + seawater
November 30, 2019 via NYPost Staff -- Cruise liners experienced an unprecedented crime wave this summer, with 35 sex assaults, two disappearances and five thefts of $10,000-plus reported to the FBI during the third quarter of this year. Sex assaults were by far the most frequently reported crime. In 2019, cruise ship chaos has become viral social media moments and major national news stories — from tragedies like the July death of an Indiana toddler whose grandfather accidentally dropped her into the Caribbean, to violence and plain stupidity, like the woman caught balancing on the edge of a Royal Caribbean boat’s balcony in October while posing for Instagram.
Note: The [cruise line] companies are required by the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act to report alleged homicides, suspicious deaths, missing persons, assaults, theft over $10,000, and incidents of people tampering with the ship to the FBI. There were no homicides and no suspicious deaths reported in 2019.
Carnival Cruises, the world’s largest cruise company, reported the most incidents with 28, including 20 sex assaults; two missing people; two serious assaults and two thefts. That marks a 47 percent uptick from the same quarter last year, when there were 19 reported Carnival incidents. The two missing persons were “intentional man over boards” [suicides] who couldn’t be saved, Carnival claimed. In addition to Royal Caribbean and Carnival, Norwegian, Disney, Celebrity and MSC Cruises also reported incidents during the reporting period (see bar graph below).