Polar flight heads home with doctor

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PUNTA ARENAS, Chile - A rescue plane completed the perilous first leg of flight home from the South Pole yesterday, carrying an ailing American doctor across Antarctica before landing at a base near the coast.

The eight-seat propeller plane carrying Dr. Ronald Shemenski, 59, who has a gallbladder ailment, flew from the U.S. base at the pole to Rothera research station in just over eight hours. Shemenski also has been diagnosed with inflammation of the pancreas, a potentially life-threatening ailment that can occur when a gallstone passes down the bile duct.

The flight was an especially dangerous leg of the riskiest rescue ever at the South Pole, with the pilots of the twin-engine plane braving snow, cold approaching minus 65, high winds and pitch-black polar darkness.

Flights to Antarctica are normally halted from late February until November. But rescuers were forced to risk the evacuation because of fears that Shemenski's health could deteriorate after worse weather makes the South Pole unreachable. Shemenski was the sole physician among 50 researchers working at the pole.

Countries send team to verifyAfghan opium destruction

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Inspectors from skeptical foreign governments began crisscrossing Afghanistan yesterday to check claims that the world's main producer of opium, the sticky sap used to make heroin, has wiped out the crop in less than a year.

Fields of poppy pods, a major cash crop in the war- and drought-stricken country, were banned in July by the ruling Taliban militia's hard-line leader, the reclusive Mullah Mohammed Omar.

The United Nations Drug Control Program sent its own inspectors and concluded in March that the plants were gone. But countries battling heroin addiction doubt it, and yesterday they sent a team of 15 investigators, including two Americans.

Nigerian accused of luring, kidnapping 3 Americans

NAIROBI, Kenya - A Nigerian man was charged yesterday with kidnapping three Americans he allegedly lured to Kenya in a phony business deal.

The three men were freed unharmed by police Tuesday from a house where one had reportedly been held in chains since January.

Augustine Azubuike Nwanga, who was accused of demanding $80,000 to release the Americans, pleaded not guilty to the charges at his arraignment. Police said two other Nigerians escaped during the raid.

The Rev. William Danny Marrow, 60, of Norfolk, Va.; Jurgen Robert Ahlmann, 58, of Escondido, Calif.; and James Edward Harrel, 67, of San Diego appeared in court yesterday but refused to speak to the press.

Cyprus jails Iraqi Kurd exileswho wanted to reach Italy

NICOSIA, Cyprus - A court in Turkish-held northern Cyprus has sentenced 69 Iraqi Kurds to 10 days in jail on charges they illegally entered the breakaway region believing they had arrived in Italy, police said yesterday.

Hundreds of thousands of would-be immigrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa ply the Mediterranean Sea with hopes of reaching prosperous European Union nations.

The migrants came ashore on the remote Karpas peninsula of the breakaway enclave in Cyprus after their smugglers told them they had reached Italy, a police official said.

4 on helicopter die in crashthrough Brazilian factory roof

SAO PAULO - A helicopter crashed through the roof of a factory in Brazil and exploded yesterday, killing four people, a Sao Paulo fire department official said.

None of the employees working in the factory, which produces compressed gases, was injured when the helicopter burst through the building's aluminum roof.

"We do not know the cause of the accident. The pilot and three passengers were incinerated, but no one in the factory was hurt. The blaze is under control, and firemen are now trying to retrieve the bodies from the wreckage," said firefighter Evan Palma.