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Nation in brief: Plame to testify about spying leak

Valerie Plame, the CIA operative exposed after her husband criticized President Bush’s march to war, will testify next week before lawmakers probing how the White House dealt with her identity, the chairman of the panel said Thursday.

Also invited to testify March 16 before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is Patrick Fitzgerald, who this week won conviction of Lewis “Scooter” Libby of obstruction and perjury in the case, said Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

Plame has accepted the invitation, Waxman said, but Fitzgerald has not responded.

In a letter to the prosecutor, Waxman proposed a meeting with ranking Republican Tom Davis of Virginia to discuss the terms of any testimony.

“The trial proceedings raise questions about whether senior White House officials, including the vice president and Senior Adviser to the President Karl Rove, complied with the requirements governing the handling of classified information,” Waxman wrote in his invitation to Fitzgerald.


Tour helicopter crashes; 4 dead

A tour helicopter crashed at an airport on the island of Kauai on Thursday, killing four people and critically injuring three, officials said.

The crash occurred at Princeville Airport mid-afternoon, shortly after a Heli-USA Airways helicopter pilot radioed that he was having hydraulic problems, according to a statement from Kauai Fire Chief Robert Westerman.

Nigel Turner, CEO of Las Vegas-based Heli-USA, said the aircraft was at the end of its tour and minutes from its scheduled landing when it crashed.

The crash comes one month after the Federal Aviation Administration announced new safety standards for air tour companies that operate at many vacation spots nationwide and for pilots who offer rides at air shows. The safety rule does not take effect until August.

Five people were killed in 2004 when a helicopter operated by Bali Hai Helicopter Tours Inc. crashed into a mountain on Kauai. And three passengers drowned in 2005 after a Heli-USA helicopter plunged into the Pacific Ocean off Kauai.


3 backpackers picked off ice floe

Army National Guard members on Thursday rescued three Korean backpackers stranded on an ice floe in the Bering Strait.

The backpackers were trying to walk across the ice pack from Russia to Alaska but somehow became stranded, Pierre said. They were picked up from a floe 17 miles southwest of Tin City on Alaska’s western coast.

“Everything’s good; there were no serious injuries,” said McHugh Pierre, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

The Russians would not allow the backpackers to cross unless they made emergency arrangements with someone in United States, Pierre said. The backpackers carried a satellite phone and made a deal with a private service, but that company’s helicopter had mechanical problems Thursday, Pierre said.

Instead, an Army National Guard helicopter picked up the backpackers, and took them to Nome.


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