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Plane scare and swine flu

April 27, 2009 2:00:36 PM PDT
Fear is a horrible thing. And tonight we're getting hit with fear on so many levels -- fear we can see and fear we can't.

A low-flying military plane speeding alongside a 747 that usually flies the President in Lower Manhattan - that's fear we could see and in fact hundreds of thousands did. And a worldwide viral outbreak labeled the swine flu is a fear that we can't see -- but is nonetheless real, and life threatening.

The fear we can see is perhaps more puzzling than the one we can't.

The short version is this: The FAA decides to organize a photo opportunity involving a military 747 that is used as Air Force One when the President is on board. Flying alongside the 747 was an F-16, and together this remarkable but frightening looking duo cruises Lower Manhattan.

While they're saying "cheese" the folks who live and work downtown are saying something quite different, and they ain't smiling.

Fears of some sort of attack are rampant -- how could they not be? Memories of the Sept. 11 terror attacks are always fresh - and how could not be? So what in the world were they thinking?

Turns out, not only weren't some people not thinking, others weren't talking.

The tick tock: The FAA sends out a note to the NYPD, reading, "The flight of a VC-25 aircraft and F-16 fighters this morning was authorized by the FAA for the vicinity of the Statue of Liberty with directives to local authorities not to disclose information about it but to direct any inquiries to the FAA Air Traffic Security Coordinator."

The Police Commissioner may or may not have informed some members of the Mayor's staff, but, according to Mayor Bloomberg, no one told him. He's a guy who likes to be told.

He insists he would have said, "no way," that he's furious about what happened. He called it "ill considered," and a "waste of taxpayer money."

All of which begs the question: Why would the NYPD just go along with this? Because they were under "directives" by the FAA?

I'm sorry, is the FAA in charge of New York City?

From this perch, it seems incredibly insensitive and lacking in common sense that the FAA would ask New York City officials to keep silent, and unexplainable how those same City officials could agree to do that.

They weren't scared, because they were in the loop - just as the rest of us should have been.

Just before this column went out, the director of the White House Military Office sent this statement: "Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision. While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption. I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused."

We'll have the latest on the lapse of public safety judgment, tonight at 11. Also at 11, the fear we can't see, but certainly can feel. The swine flu. There are now at least 28 cases of it in New York City -- all from the same private high school in Queens. 149 people have died so far in Mexico, and the number of cases here and around the world seems to be growing. In fact, health experts expect the number to rise.

Why is this happening? And how can you protect yourself?

I'm old enough to remember the last swine flu scare - back in 1976, when a soldier at Ft. Dix died from swine flu. There were worries about an outbreak, and President Ford ordered a massive vaccination. The shots turned out to be far more problematic than the disease. Hundreds were killed or hurt by the inoculation the government gave them -- as the President made immunizing all Americans (about 220 million at the time) a top priority.

There are many, however, who believe the government's swift action helped prevent an outbreak, and was a great example of crisis management by the country's health industry.

For the record, there are those who are now working on a vaccine, but it will take months to bring it to market.

There's no question that a full-court press is underway to deal with a potential pandemic. Pres. Obama is urging people not to travel to Mexico, and there are warnings from countries abroad not to travel to the U.S. And Mexico.

We're also exploring the very real problem of undocumented workers here being afraid to report any health problems for fear of deportation.

We'll have the latest, at 11.

Also at 11, it's unquestionably a recessionary trend - selling possessions containing gold. You can make a lot of money; you can also get ripped off. Joe Torres tonight has some tips about how to avoid the latter.

Speaking of Joe, he's on his way to Mexico City for us, the Ground Zero of the swine flu outbreak.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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