Passengers watch jet equipment problems on TV

LOS ANGELES - The airliner circled Southern California for hours, crippled by a faulty landing gear, while inside its cabin 140 passengers watched their own life-and-death drama unfolding on live television.

While satellite TV sets aboard JetBlue Flight 292 were tuned to news broadcasts, some passengers cried. Others tried to telephone relatives and one woman sent a text message to her mother in Florida attempting to comfort her in the event she died.

''It was very weird. It would've been so much calmer without'' the televisions, Pia Varma of Los Angeles said after the plane skidded to a safe landing Wednesday evening in a stream of sparks and burning tires. No one was hurt.

Federal authorities, the airline and the plane manufacturer launched investigations.

Varma, 23, and other passengers said the plane's monitors carried live DirectTV broadcasts on the plane's problems until just a few minutes before landing at Los Angeles International Airport.

Driver intentionally crashed into Vegas crowd, police say

LAS VEGAS - A driver intentionally steered his car onto a sidewalk on the crowded Las Vegas Strip and then accelerated in a deadly scene resembling ''humans being mowed down like a lawnmower,'' police said Thursday.

One person died and 13 were hospitalized, many with major injuries, after Wednesday's crash. A 27-year-old man faces charges of murder and attempted murder, Deputy Police Chief Greg McCurdy said.

Government orders aid to Texas

WASHINGTON - House Republicans began their inquiry Thursday into the government's ''largely abysmal'' response to Hurricane Katrina as federal authorities prepared for another big storm threatening the Gulf Coast.

President Bush made plans to fly to Texas on Friday to review the preparations for Rita, expected to hit the coast by Saturday.

''We have resources there to help the federal, state and local officials to respond swiftly and effectively,'' said Bush.

Committee sends Roberts to Senate for nomination

WASHINGTON - The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved John Roberts' nomination as the next Supreme Court chief justice, virtually assuring his confirmation by the Senate next week.

The official tally of 13-5 was anticlimatic, with the committee's 10 majority Republicans lined up solidly behind the conservative judge's nomination to the full Senate weeks in advance.

But the decision by three Democrats to join Republican efforts to make Roberts the nation's 109th Supreme Court justice outlined the division in the minority caucus over whether Democrats can, or should, mount even symbolic opposition to Roberts to send President Bush a message on his next Supreme Court nomination which will come soon.

Statements begin in Lynndie England court-martial

FORT HOOD, Texas - A former Abu Ghraib prison guard testified Thursday that Lynndie England was impressionable and under the sway of her soldier boyfriend, who prosecutors have described as the ringleader of detainee abuse.

Robert Jones, now a policeman in Baltimore, said the dominant presence of Pvt. Charles Graner trumped military rank to make him the de facto leader of the prison section where the abuse occurred.

Louisiana man who fled Katrina, killed in Tenn.

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - A restaurant cook and dishwasher from Metairie, La., has become the first Katrina refugee to be killed in a host community.

Don Maurice Airline, 24, was found dead on a secluded road with five gunshots to his head. Chattanooga police are considering the possibility that someone killed him to steal the relief money the Red Cross gave him.

Detective R. Kenneth Freeman said he was sorry the shooting Saturday happened in Chattanooga, a city where the Red Cross, churches and social agencies are helping hundreds of Katrina refugees.

Freight trains collide, injuring six

NEWSOMS, Va. - A CSX freight train hauling 60 cars of rock collided with another train hauling 31 empty cars early Thursday, injuring six rail workers and leaving 16 cars derailed, a spokesman for the rail company said.

The trains collided about 3:30 a.m. on a rail line used to deliver rock from a quarry outside of Emporia to Portsmouth, CSX spokesman Gary Sease said from the company's headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla.

''We don't have a good read on the injuries,'' Sease said. ''They range from serious to minor."

- From wire reports