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Investigators look into petting zoo fire that killed dozens of animals

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A tortoise

GADSDEN, Ala. — Investigators continue to seek the cause of a fire that destroyed an Alabama petting zoo barn and killed roughly 75 animals.

Park Supervisor Christina Richardson tells the Gadsden Times that Noccalula Falls Park remained closed Monday, partly because of stormy weather, but will reopen by the end of the week.

The Sunday blaze killed birds, turtles, a tortoise, a lemur, baby alligators, snakes, guinea pigs and others housed in the Gadsden city park barn. Animals that lived outside weren’t harmed.

Fire Marshal Jason Talton said determining a cause will be difficult because so much of the structure burned away, but said investigators have seen nothing suspicious so far.

Gadsden Fire Chief Wil Reed said firefighters found the barn engulfed in flames when they arrived early Sunday after someone reported smoke to dispatchers.

The barn had no sprinklers, Richardson said, and the all-wooden structure had flammable hay and feed inside.

Richardson said the city hasn’t decided whether it will rebuild or not.

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Should I quit college to become a cop?

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Should I quit college to become a cop?

I’m completing my second year of college and now want to apply to the NYPD to become a police officer. My parents are pleading with me to finish my degree first and join later. I think they are hoping I’ll change my mind. Should I follow my passion now?

Well, first of all, it takes a brave person to join law enforcement at any time but particularly so now given all of the social unrest. So, thank you for wanting to protect and serve. I don’t often side with what parents typically want for their kids when it comes to career choices, because often it is about what will make them proud and happy, not necessarily what will make their children happy. However, in this instance, I’m on Team Parents. You can always join the force in two years’ time after graduation. The demand for great police officers is not going away. With a college degree, you will give yourself more options if you change your mind or if becoming a police officer doesn’t work out for any reason. Plus, with two more years of life experience and education under your belt, you will be even better prepared for the role if you still choose to pursue it.

My colleague and I got caught doing the same stupid thing on a Zoom call. I got fired and he got a suspension. I’m older and he’s younger. Is that legal?

Hold on there. First of all, we’re all wondering what the heck you did, Butch and Sundance. Or maybe we don’t want to know. I hope it wasn’t something gross, but if it was, I bet your friend would have been fired too. Did you wave goodbye at the end of the meeting? I hate when people do that. It’s like the Von Trapp kids going to bed only not as cute. While the mind wanders, it’s perfectly legal to treat two people differently for the same infraction. It’s similar to different sentences for the same criminal offense. Is it your third infraction and his first? Does one have a track of great performance and the other a new hire? Is one in a more critical, hard-to-fill role? Is one a great performer and the other mediocre? As long as age, race, gender and so on were not factors, the employer has the right to apply different treatment. So, what did you do?

Gregory Giangrande has over 25 years of experience as a chief human resources executive and is dedicated to helping New Yorkers get back to work. E-mail your questions to [email protected] Follow Greg on Twitter: @greggiangrande and at GoToGreg.com

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Summer vacation stays are quickly selling out

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Summer vacation stays are quickly selling out

Book now or forever hold your peace.

People are so desperate to get out of the house after a year of quarantine that, according to a new report from Forbes, top hotels, rental homes and resorts are already booked up for summer through Labor Day weekend.

“The pent-up demand is real,” Betsy O’Rourke, CMO for Xanterra, the country’s largest national park concessions management company told the magazine. “We’ve all been sequestered for a year, and many of our guests have saved money, so the desire to travel along with the funds to pay for it are combining for a swift recovery for our cruise, tour and train brands.”

“Many of our top vacation destinations currently have double the reservations for June, July and August 2021 compared to what was booked at this time in 2019,” Natalia Sutin, the vice president of revenue management at Vacasa, a vacation rental platform, told Forbes.

Meanwhile, if you got a place you may want to book your rental car now.

“We’re telling customers to book six to eight weeks in advance,” Jonathan Weinberg, the CEO of the rental car booking site AutoSlash, said. “Even before they nail down their flight and hotel.”

And beware of massive crowds in Las Vegas, Miami, and Orlando — the top three destinations according to Hopper.

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The heroes of Flying Tiger Line Flight 739

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flying-tiger-flight-1

Six decades after their loved ones vanished into thin air, relatives of the victims of Flying Tiger Line Flight 739 — 93 soldiers aboard a secret-mission flight chartered by the US Army in the buildup to the Vietnam War — want answers.

They gathered together Saturday for a ceremony in Columbia Falls, Maine, organized by the non-profit Wreaths Across America at a memorial to honor the fallen.  

“The memorial ceremony offers some closure,” Marie Mull, 82, told The Post of her brother, Sgt. Clarence Ganance of Rensselaer, NY. “We’ve always wondered what happened . . . probably always will.”

Nobody knows exactly what happened on the morning of March 16, 1962, because no bodies nor debris — not even a single piece — have ever been recovered.

All that’s transparent about the mission is that the servicemen — along with three members of the Armed Forces of Vietnam and 11 crew members — were transported on Flying Tiger Line’s Flight 739, chartered from Travis Air Force Base in Northern California to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. After refueling, the plane embarked on what was to be a 2,600-mile journey to its final destination in Saigon, South Vietnam. It was piloted by Capt. Gregory Thomas, a World War II veteran from New Jersey with nearly 20,000 flying hours under his belt.

Flying Tiger Line (similar to Don’s plane).
Flying Tiger Line (similar to Don’s plane).
Flying Tiger

Based on the observations of civilians on a nearby tanker, the plane was between Guam and the Philippines when there was a flash and a vapor trail, indicating a midair explosion.

The ensuing eight-day search and rescue operation across 200,000 square miles was the largest to ever take place in The Pacific.

Adding to the mystery: The same day that Flight 739 disappeared, another chartered Flying Tiger Line flight, carrying military cargo but no passengers, left Travis AFB and crashed in a fireball short of a runway on the Aleuthian Islands in Alaska. The incident left the pilot dead and injured six crew who are not known to have spoken publicly about the incident.

Some sources claim the elite team of Rangers aboard Flight 793, mostly communications specialists, had been hand-picked by President John F. Kennedy as part of a covert operation involving the CIA. It has since emerged that in early 1962 — three years before American ground troops “officially” entered the Vietnam conflict — the US had advisors training indigenous tribes in Laos and Cambodia. As the agency was trying to determine if America should join the ongoing war in Southeast Asia, the situation was politically sensitive.

Among the men who disappeared on Flight 739 were Albert F. Wil­liams (left) and Clarence Ganance.
Among the men who disappeared on Flight 739 were Albert F. Wil­liams (left) and Clarence Ganance.

But family members have never received real answers other than the Army saying the soldiers were “lost at sea.”

Donna Ellis, now 64, remembers military officials arriving at her family’s door to deliver the news that her father, Staff Sgt. Melvin Lewis Hatt, had likely perished.

“I heard what was said and thought, ‘That’s my Daddy!’ recalled Ellis, who was five at the time. Not long after, she and her younger sister were adopted by an aunt and uncle when their widowed mother suffered a catastrophic nervous breakdown. “Ever since that day, I’ve wanted to know what happened,” said Ellis, who lives in Haslett, Michigan.

Similarly, Maria McCawley often wonders about her father, Sgt. First Class Albert F Williams Jr., who was 32 when his plane crashed.

“We asked ourselves whether it was sabotage or the flight was hijacked and the men were taken as prisoners of war,” said McCawley, 59, of Branson, Missouri.

Others believe it was “black ops” — ordered by the CIA, but not officially sanctioned by the military. A number of the men had told their families it was unlikely they would make it out alive, so they knew it was going to be a dangerous deployment.

“It was secret and unauthorized,” said 77-year-old Mississippi resident Dianna Crumpler, whose 23-year-old brother, James H Taylor, Specialist, First Class, failed to come home.

Theories about the men’s disappearance range from mechanical failure and sabotage (the plane was left unattended during its 90-minute stop in Guam) to being shot down by a surface-to-air missile. It has even been proposed that the soldiers were kidnapped en masse or started new lives elsewhere after completing their mission in the Vietnamese jungle.

The men lost on the flight were honored Saturday at a Maine memorial.
The men lost on the flight were honored Saturday at a Maine memorial.
Rogier van Bakel/Eager Eye Photography

Repeat demands from legislators, including Maine Senator Susan Collins, led to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests and the release of heavily redacted military documents — but that has only caused dissatisfaction among bereaved family members frustrated by the absence of clarity.

“It’s called the runaround,” concluded Crumpler. “Nobody [in the political system] has an answer so they just keep sending us elsewhere.”

Neither the government nor military has taken an official stance on the mission or what might have happened to the flight. A report by the Civil Aeronautic Board released after the crash merely stated that “the board is unable to determine the probable cause.”

The only known person alive today with possible insight into the mission is a veteran who was bumped from the doomed flight a few minutes before take-off. US Air Force Airman Anthony L. Wahl, now 83, of Shell Rock, Iowa, declined to be interviewed by The Post. But, in a narrative published on the Wreaths Across America website, he described being “excited and apprehensive” as he waited in line at Travis to enter the “sleek and shining Constellation.”

Then aged 19, he was ordered to travel instead on a Philippines-bound Boeing 707 to assist a military wife with three children.

“I have always believed that God intervened that day and saved me from death,” he wrote. “I also have the question: ‘Why me?’ There is the haunting question of who took my place?”

Sgt Clarence Ganance, 35, who enlisted in the U.S Army at the age of 17, told family his reward for joining the mission was set to be a slightly earlier retirement from the military.

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At the age of 36, Staff Sgt Melvin Lewis Hatt, 36, was one of the more senior members of the elite squad who perished on the 1962 mission.

flying-tiger-flight-11

Sgt John C. Wendell, 33, was a hands-on dad who taught his elder daughter, Monica, how to ride a bike. “He held the back of the seat and promised he’d tell me when he let go,” she recalls. “He kept his word.”

flying-tiger-flight-7

Specialist James Henry Taylor, 23, was deployed shortly before the birth of his second daughter, Jamie Ann. Tragically, the infant died from brain damage after living for just five days. Her epileptic mother, Deanna, then 23, suffered seizures triggered by the shock of her husband’s disappearance.

flying-tiger-flight-15

Specialist Donald A. Sargent, 19, aka “Ducky” due to his web feet, was one of the younger casualties. His distraught mother, Ethel, clung on to his status as MIA, despite him being presumed dead, convinced until her own passing that her son would eventually come home.

flying-tiger-flight-13

Sgt Albert F Williams Jnr, 32, was known for his good looks and quick sense of humor. Growing up without her father, his younger daughter, Maria McCawley, and her two older siblings would wave at passing aircraft to thank him for his service, calling out: “Hi Daddy!”

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Meanwhile the relatives of Specialist Donald A. Sargent in Portland, Maine, say the 19-year-old Army man’s behavior before the flight was odd. Jennifer Kirk recalled how her mother, Sargent’s sister told it: “She was the last member of the family to see Donald alive and he kept bounding up asking for ‘one more hug,’” said Kirk. “It was almost as if he knew he was never coming back.”

Her stricken grandmother, Ethel Sargent, was convinced he’d return one day.  She refused to allow anyone to touch her son’s trunk, dispatched after his disappearance.

“My dad opened it four years ago on the fifty-fifth anniversary of the incident and found Donald’s full uniform and a 1950s tuxedo inside,” said Kirk. “They were in mint condition.”

The uniform was donated to the Wreaths Across America museum near Acadia National Park, where the new memorial stands in a clearing amid a balsam fir forest owned by the organization’s founder, Merrill Worcester.

During the Sat., May 15, ceremony, the names of the service members and crew before more than 200 relatives and friends. Some also hung special dog tags printed with their loved ones’ names on the pine trees nearby.

“These dog tags chink together in the breeze, making a beautiful sound which reminds us of the lives lost,” Sean Sullivan, of Wreaths Across America, told The Post, explaining that tens of thousands of dog tags adorn the branches in memory of other deceased veterans.

Crumpler is one of the campaigners who want the victims’ names engraved on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington D.C.

Right now, she said, “It’s as if James and the other men never existed.”

The appeals have so far been thwarted by the Department of Defense which claims those aboard Flight 739 were not participating in an “official” combat mission.

She, along with the other grieving families, believes the unveiling of the Maine memorial is a step in the right direction.

“The Rangers’ creed says ‘Leave no comrade behind,’ but these men were left behind,” pointed out Monica Young, whose father, John C Wendell, Sergeant First Class, disappeared the day before her 15th birthday. “Thanks to this [Saturday’s] remembrance, they’ve no longer been left behind.”

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