AP answers your news questions, from recovering air travelers’ luggage to the death of a skier

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ask AP: Air travelers’ luggage, a skier’s death

Saving people’s lives, of course, is an airline’s top priority whenever a plane crashes. But later on, what’s the procedure for trying to save their luggage?

Curiosity about who’s ultimately responsible for air travelers’ belongings inspired one of the questions in this edition of “Ask AP,” a weekly Q&A column where AP journalists respond to readers’ questions about the news.

If you have your own news-related question that you’d like to see answered by an AP reporter or editor, send it to newsquestions@ap.org, with “Ask AP” in the subject line. And please include your full name and hometown so they can be published with your question.

You can also find Ask AP on AP Mobile, a multimedia news service available on Internet-enabled cell phones. Go to www.apnews.com/ to learn more.

During the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, there was much coverage of a Scandinavian skier whose brother skied off into the woods and disappeared. Was the brother ever found?

Jan Conavay

Jerome, Ill.

In October 1993, Ketil Ulvang, the older brother of Olympic cross-country champion Vegard Ulvang, vanished in a snowstorm while jogging through the mountains near their hometown of Kirkenes, an Arctic village of about 5,000 people.

The younger Ulvang left training in Italy to search for Ketil, a physical therapist for Norway’s national ski team. Hundreds of volunteers joined one of the biggest searches in Norwegian history, but found not trace of Ketil.

In June 1994, days after the snow had melted and the search resumed, Ketil’s body was found floating in a shallow mountain lake. Kirkenes police spokeswoman Trude Danielsen said he most likely got lost in the snowstorm and fell through the ice.

Competing in the Lillehammer Games, Ulvang won a silver medal as part of the Norwegian 40-kilometer cross-country relay team. Two years prior, at the Albertville Games, he won three gold medals.

Ian MacDougall

AP Writer, Oslo, Norway

After a plane crash, what happens to passengers’ luggage? I’m thinking of the Hudson River splashdown, for example. Does the airline attempt to recover and deliver these belongings? Is returning bags or belongings considered a responsibility of the airline?

Alfonso Corona


There is a voluntary process developed by the National Transportation Safety Board in conjunction with air carriers for returning baggage and other personal belongings to passengers or their families after airline accidents. How much baggage can be retrieved depends on the extent of damage in the accident. After accident investigators go through everything, airlines usually hire a third party to clean baggage and other belongings. Airline wreckage is considered a biohazard site.

If belongings are intact, they can be delivered to passengers or family members. If the ownership of recovered belongings isn’t known, airlines often make photos available to passengers and family members so that they have an opportunity to claim their items. The airline is responsible for returning belongings, not the NTSB.

In the case of US Airways Flight 1549 — which collided with Canada geese shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in New York on Jan. 15, 2009, and ditched into the Hudson River — the airline hired a contractor to recover, sort, clean and restore more than 30,000 passenger belongings.

Joan Lowy

AP Writer, Washington

Under what circumstances was The Associated Press founded?

Jonathan Plotz

Frankfurt (Oder), Germany

The Associated Press sprang from Americans’ thirst for news from the Mexican War.

War dispatches originated in Veracruz, crossed the Gulf of Mexico by boat, and landed at Mobile, Ala., where they encountered delays in waiting for the Great Southern Mail, the postal route through the South. During the spring of 1846, the publisher of the New York Sun, Moses Yale Beach, hit on a scheme to speed the process.

Beach hired Pony Express riders to carry the dispatches from Mobile to Montgomery, where they could rejoin the mail for the journey to Richmond, the nearest telegraph head. From there, the dispatches could be wired to Washington and on to New York. Beach did not pay the riders unless they gained a 24-hour edge over regular mail — which they routinely did.

Beach’s further innovation was to offer an equal share in the pony venture to other New York daily papers. Thus was born the Associated Press of New York.

An inventor with a list of patents to his name, Beach doubtless understood that the cooperative arrangement would soon hinge entirely on the telegraph, as the wires enabling instantaneous communication spread across the country.

Valerie S. Komor

Director, AP Corporate Archives, New York

Have questions of your own? Send them to newsquestions@ap.org.

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