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tv   America Tonight  Al Jazeera  February 13, 2016 2:30am-3:01am EST

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>> thanks for joining us on "america tonight." i'm joie chen. our nation's big defense budget is bound to come up in the course of any presidential contest. but this election year, the most
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expensive weapon system ever in the pentagon's arsenal could become an even bigger target in the political fight. because the home base of many of the very controversial f-35 fighter jets is vermont which you may recall coincidentally also the home of one of the key candidates, the democratic senator bernie sanders. almost since its inception the supertetsuperstealth dwri fightt y fighter hasn't been off the radar. sheila macvicar has the story. >> never has the military put a fighter at a commercial airport. they go to remote bases, they do that purposely because any aircraft crash more. >> reporter: the plane she's talking about is the f-35 fighter.
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from its stealthy design to the many lines of computer code that acts as artificial intelligence, it's being hailed as the future of combat aviation. >> hey hey ho ho, the f-35 has got to go. >> but the residents of this town see it as a real danger. the burtle airpor burlington aia suitable airport for the f-35. it is a commercial airport not a military base. >> reporter: rose ann greco is fighting to keep the f-35 out of her local airport at burlington, vermont. burlington is home to the vermont air national gad. it's scheduled to receive 18 f-35s by the year 2020. it will be the first air national guard unit in america to get the plane.
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replacing a unit of aging f-16s. the burlington airport has homes built right up to its perimeter. there are towns on both ends of its runway. williston to the north and willusky to the south. a working class town. >> i've been in the backyards and it's astounding how low the planes are over their homes. you could probably recognize people in the cockpit. that's how low they are. >> reporter: to get a better sense of greco's concerns, consider the record of the f-16. since its introduction in 1975, the u.s. air force has lost more than 320 of them in crashes and mishaps. out of a fleet of 2230, that's one in seven. >> if something happens with
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takeoff and landing of the f-35 it is probable that it will land in this area here. it's a recipe for a colossal disaster. it's almost horrendous to even think about. >> reporter: contrast burlington's airport with luke air force base in arizona, where pilots will be trained to fly f-35. a buffer zone reinforced in 2015 whether an f -16 went down jut outside the base. >> it's populated. >> grekee is not just an activist. she's also a former air force colonel, a highly decorated officer, she specializes in air traffic control. like many modern military
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planes, the f-35 is largely made of composite materials, carbon and graphite held together with resins and glues. >> if it doesn't land on top of them pen there's also the danger of the smoke and the fumes that come off of the burning wreckage that is filled with chemicals, some of those chemicals are toxic. >> according to this engineering textbook on the flammability of composite materials inhaling smoke from the burning of them can cause acute and delayed health problems, even death. it says long term health risks include cancers and tumors. still, aircraft like the f-35 are typically covered with special membranes designed to absorb radar, those materials are said to be highly toxic when burned. in the 1980s and 90s, several workers at the secret
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air base area 51 in nevada reported, falling seriously ill when being exposed to they say burning stealth material. two of them died as a result. >> back in 2008, 2009, i started developing back problems, eventually had to remove the vertebrae in my back from the cancer. >> jason has been within feet of a burning stealth aircraft. >> actually brought up could it possibly have been from this? because they were really having a hard time trying to identify this type of cancer and it still to this day you know as unknown. >> in 1995 flesher was the leader of a search and rescue team in new mexico. one night his team got a call. witnesses had seen a huge fire ball over the zuni indian reservation in the northwestern part of the state. told it was a plane crash he
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went in looking for survivors. >> normally, we're told the plane, you know the type of plane, whether it's a private plane, commercial airline or what. >> and you didn't know how to protect ourselves. >> no, no. >> let me ask you, when you were at the crash site, did you have a res respirator? >> no. >> knowing what you know now was it the right thing to do, to be at that crash site without a respirator? >> no, not at all. >> it would be weeks before he found out the reason for secrecy. the f-115a, the first stealth aircraft. the pilot was killed in the accident. all this came out only after a local newspaper reporter began investigating. so this says in the aftermath of the crash the air force issued a warning that the smoke from the toxic. do you remember that?
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>> i remember it coming out days later. >> days later? >> days later. >> so this also says there was a paper delivered at a nasa conference in 1994, an air force paper, some materials that may have burned posed serious health risks, nobody said anything to you about any of that? >> no, no. >> and after this came out in the denver post you got a letter. >> got a letter from a gentleman who was retired but worked ton project, the stealth project. >> in this letter he talked about his own experience developing the plane. >> having to be under full protective haz-mat suit, protective suits any time anyone worked around the project itself. >> after this article he asked the air force for
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regular medical examinations but has been denied. as to this date, the air force hasn't been forthcoming to the burning wreckage to which he was exposed. a lesson and a warning to the resident of burlington and wineuski. the the operational play book how to fly plane under special circumstances. >> let me ask you this, is the community writing a play book with regard to the hazards and risks, bringing this plane in and what the community needs to prepare for. >> we wanted to speak to someone, anyone about the decision to base the f-35 in burlington. but the pentagon, vermont starts even burlington's mayor all turned us down. as for greco she's left fighting the military she served so proudly for 30 years, afraid their expensive new weapon may
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spell disaster for her town. >> "america tonight's" sheila macvicar is here now. the otherwise bucolic burlington, vermont seems an unlikely place for this aircraft. how does it get there? >> reporter: not only that, it gets there as a result of a lot of lobbying on the part of powerful people and bernie sanders who of course is running for president now is one of those powerful people who in 2012 said well you know the plane's got to go somewhere and i would rather that it be in vermont than in florida or california. >> so it is not just the aircraft, this is something that thus creates a technology opportunities within the community. isn't that usually the thinking? >> that is some of the thinking. but if you listen to what senator sanders is saying on the election trail and what he's been saying consistently since 2014, even before he declared his candidacy for the presidency, what he's been talking about is how wasteful military spending is.
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in 2014 he said in new hampshire, he said, in very clever ways the military industrial complex puts plants all over the country so if people try cut back on our weapon systems what they're saying is you'll be losing jobs in that area. but it was senator sanders himself who lobbied lockheed martin to put a research center into burlington, vermont. the same meeting in 2014 senator sanders was asked, you talk about this wasteful military program, f-35 is the most expensive in the military history and not working too well, are you going to cut the f-35? sanders replied no, the plane's essentially built and it's not really going to go away. so there's clearly a limit. >> to how much he will tolerate. "america tonight's" sheila macvicar, thank you. next up, a documentary on al
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jazeera america at the intersection of social media and justice, the film on finding sunil. and. can this be the campaign that finally changes, at aljazeera.com/americatonight.
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>> what happens at the time intersection of social media and society's fears? case in point the search for a missing college student and the stunning turn it took in the days after the boston marathon bombing. al jazeera america this weekend debuts a documentary about tragedy, technology and truth in the film, help us find sunil tripathi.
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>> the first 48 hours of the search were frantic. the emotion was just incede bli tense and the adrenalin wasth credibly flowing. >> this case was a little bit new, we knew it wasn't a run away, it was a local kid, we quickly learned from the family he had had some struggles. >> he had been getting pressure to get help which he did not want to do. so there was athe feeling that the feeling that maybe, just maybe he took off because he just needed a break. >> if someone does not want to be found then it makes it very difficult for us to go find him. >> after several days, the police started to say to us, it's going to be a waiting game.
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we weren't going anywhere. we couldn't. nothing else was important. >> brown university opt up the gardner house to our entire family and anyone else who was there to help. quickly it just became kind of home base. >> anyone walking through this door sends a card in the house and seeing ground zero and seeing this operation and listen to the family i'm like hearing about sunil and what this meant couldn't really turn away. which is why i couldn't really turn away either. >> you felt instant camaraderie with people who would wander in and say what can i do? and you were instantly their friend, their co-worker. we have organizational meetings every day.
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and we have assignments and we have to pick teams. what are you good at and what length of time are you going to be here ? we had nooks and crannies teams. we had people looking in places where people could go and just curl up. it was very intense, it was very emotional. >> we would prioritize the places we would search. every time law enforcement said we'll call you, we said no, let's schedule a meeting tomorrow at 9:00 we'll bring doughnuts. >> the best way to find sunil was to get out there all over facebook. >> despite how uncomfortable it was, we felt it was what we
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needed to do to get his story out. >> love you, hope you're doing well. >> sunil, we want you back. i love you so much. >> i love there was a place where our
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interests and their interests aligned and we kept trying to figure out what that sweet spot is. >> every day there was new news, came from a roller coaster of emotions, being very hopeful that no news is good news to being very frightened that no news meant that we were still there and we were still looking .
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we talked about the fact that he left to go somewhere and that it had to be on some camera, somewhere. >> we focused on three or four cameras that are near and about his apartment. and as we looked through the film, we did see him at 1:34 a.m. on first camera. >> there's a moment in the film where he crosses by a car and he kind of waves at the car because the car let him go. we all know that's how sun dwri walks. unny walks. when it's somebody you know, you know. >> and then we follow him on four of the cameras on various blocks. >> and then we wanted so bad to see him returning. because he was walking away from
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the house. >> but we never saw him return. >> you can see the full documentary, help us find sunil tripathi, this sunday 10:00 p.m, 7:00 pacific only on al jazeera america. next here a deep freeze will catch a drift of the coolest pastime that on the waters of the great cold north.
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>> mosquitos spreading rare diseases. >> as scientists we'd be fighting a losing battle against mosquitos. >> they'd kill one person every 12 seconds. >> just like that, i might have genetically modified a mosquito. >> it's like a video game with genes. >> this is what innovation looks like. >> i feel like we're making an impact. >> let's do it. >> techknow, where technology meets humanity.
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only on al jazeera america.
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>> these people have decided that today they will be arrested. >> i know that i'm being surveilled. >> people are not getting the care that they need. >> this is a crime against humanity. >> hands up... >> don't shoot. >> hands up... >> don't shoot. >> what do we want? >> justice. >> when do we want it? >> now. >> explosions going on... we're not quite sure - >> is that an i.e.d.? >> this is one of the most important sites in the century. >> this linked the mafia and the church. >> why do you think you didn't get the medal of honor? >> i can't allow you not to go into that because that is your job. >> we gonna bring this city back one note at a time. >> proudest moment in my life.
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>> coming up tonight, we'll have the latest... >> does the government give you refugee status? >> they've marched to the border. >> thousands have taken to the streets here in protest. >> this is where gangs bury their members. >> they're tracking climate change. [technical difficu]
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[technical difficu] syrian president bashar al-assad vows to fight on determined to retake the entire country despite proposals to pause the fighting hello. welcome to al jazeera. also coming up in the program. pope francis receives a warm women come in

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