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Nov. 17, 2012 at 10:57 PM
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Search for missing oil workers ends

BATON ROUGE, La., Nov. 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. Coast Guard said it ended its air-and-sea search Saturday night for two men missing after an explosion and fire on a Gulf of Mexico oil rig.

Petty Officer Carlos Vega said the hunt was terminated just before 5:30 p.m., The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported.

Petty Officer Jonathan Lally said 11 of the 22 people on the platform at the time of the explosion Friday morning were hurt. Four were in the burn unit at Baton Rouge General Hospital, including two in critical condition. The others were in stable condition.

Nine employees got off the rig, owned by Black Elk Energy of Houston and located bout 20 miles from Grand Isle, without injury.

The Times-Picayune said the cause of the accident on the rig, which was not producing oil at the time, was being investigated. Authorities said it appeared workers were using a torch to cut a 3-inch-wide and 7-foot-long pipe that had about 28 gallons of oil in it, the newspaper said.

James Watson, director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, said in a statement Saturday the federal agency "is committed to determining the direct and indirect causes of the explosion and will take appropriate enforcement action."

Black Elk Energy Chief Executive Officer John Hoffman called the incident "a heartbreaking event."

3 killed when plane hits truck in Maine

OWLS HEAD, Maine, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- The three men killed when their plane crashed into a truck on an airport runway were a University of Maine graduate and two students, the school said Saturday.

The accident occurred Friday evening at the Knox County Regional Airport in Owls Head, Maine, the Kennebec Journal reported.

While the county sheriff's office said it would await DNA testing before naming the victims, the university said Saturday night they were William "B.J." Hannigan III, 24, of South Portland; David Cheney, 22, of Beverly, Mass.; and Marcelo Rugini, 24, an exchange student from Brazil living in Nobleboro, the newspaper said.

University Vice President for Student Affairs Robert Dana said Hannigan was the pilot.

Authorities said Saturday the pickup truck driver, Stephen Turner , 62, of Camden, was driving across the main runway when it collided with the victims' Cessna 172 as they were trying to take off shortly before 5 p.m.

The sheriff's office said Turner, who was not injured, had just put a plane in a hangar and was driving back to the terminal, a common practice the airport manager said is allowed if the driver has received training from airport officials and the vehicle has a radio. Airport Manager Jeff Northgraves has said Friday night the driver had both, though he didn't identify Turner at the time.

The plane climbed briefly after the impact, then veered sharply and crashed into a nearby wooded area where it burst into flames.

Obama takes off for southeast Asia

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama left Saturday on a three-day trip to southeast Asia that will make him the first U.S. president to visit Myanmar.

Air Force One made a refueling stop in Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, on the way to Asia.

The last item on Obama's itinerary is a regional economic summit in Cambodia. But the highlight is expected to be his second stop, Myanmar, where he is to meet both political leaders and longtime dissident Aung San Suu Kyi in the country formerly known as Burma, The Guardian reported.

Danny Russel, senior Asia director on the National Security Council, told reporters in a conference call this week the aim of the trip is to further the administration's foreign policy pivot toward Asia. The goal is to build close ties with the countries around China so that country's growing power "contributes to the common good," he said.

Russel said Myanmar, after decades as an isolated country ruled by an autocratic and secretive military regime, is not yet a model democracy.

"This is not a victory celebration. This is a barn-raising," he said. "This is a moment when we believe that the Burmese leaders have put their feet on the right path, and that it's critical to us that we not miss a moment to influence them to keep them going."

Obama's first stop is Thailand, where he plans to visit the royal Wat Pho monastery. He is scheduled to have an audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej and a meeting with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

'Gifts' comments erode Romney support

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Presidential nominee Mitt Romney is getting a negative reaction from Republicans less than two weeks after losing the U.S. election to President Barack Obama.

His loss of support within the party accelerated this week after reports of his assertion in a telephone call to major donors that Obama won because of the "gifts" the president gave to minority groups, The Washington Post reported Friday.

That statement was quickly condemned not only by Democrats, but Republicans. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Friday called Romney's comments "divisive," and inappropriate for someone who wanted to be a leader of the entire nation.

The remarks represent Romney's "blame and disregard" for voters, added newly elected Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.

Romney came in for sharp criticism during the campaign when Mother Jones reported on his remarks at a gathering of supporters in Florida at which he said 47 percent of Americans considered themselves "victims."

Romney ran largely on his business experience, without a strong political base gained from years in politics, the Post noted. He had leaned toward a whiter, more rural and more conservative demographic for votes during the campaign, but got less than he had expected.

Regardless of the feelings of others within the GOP, Stuart Stevens, a Romney adviser, said Romney is still "the most popular Republican on the national scene at the moment."

Romney has found support from Obama, who said after the election he agreed with some of Romney's policies and hoped to bring him to the White House for consultation.

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