Twenty-thousand feet down the answers may be waiting, hidden in some underwater canyon far off Australia's coast. But more than nine months after searchers began scouring the seas for a Malaysia Airlines jetliner that vanished with 239 people aboard, the catastrophe defies resolution.
In that way, the long, fruitless hunt for clues to Flight 370's fate set the tone for many of the headlines that defined 2014. It was a year upended by calamity and conflict, disease and division that often left the public and its leaders grasping for answers.
From Ukraine to the Middle East, from the Ebola threat to the tensions exposed by police killings in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere, many of the top news stories fed into a growing sense of frustration.
Confronting the questions raised by the headlines brought little peace of mind. Instead, one event after another exploded, demanding attention but often rewarding it with weariness and lingering unease. Unlike 2013, when much of the news centered on Washington's political dysfunction, many of this year's biggest stories were rooted in far-flung locales, but their impact kept rippling.
That was certainly the case with the conflict over Ukraine, stretching back to President Victor Yanukovych's ouster in February. When Russia filled the vacuum by grabbing the Crimean peninsula and working with militants bent on taking more territory from the western-leaning government, it set off a standoff reminiscent of the Cold War.
Militants are blamed for downing a second Malaysian jet as it flew over Ukrainian airspace in July, killing all 298 aboard, the largest number of them Dutch. U.S.-led sanctions have begun tightening a vise on the Russian economy. Months later, both sides are locked in a stare-down that can hardly be called a peace.
In less harried times, even many of the biggest news events capture the public's attention for just a few days, or perhaps weeks, before slipping from view. But in 2014, Ukraine kept a lasting place in the headlines and was hardly an exception.
Consider that the Ebola crisis began with a case in Guinea last December. By March, the World Health Organization was tracking the outbreak and working to marshal a response. But a year after the outbreak began, there is no end to fears of a disease that has already killed at least 6,000 people.
Nearly all of those deaths came in three west African countries. But when a Liberian man with the disease died at a Dallas hospital this fall, followed by a handful of other U.S. cases, it set off a panic and doubts about whether the health system was ready. As the year neared an end, the WHO questioned reports of progress in containing the disease in Africa based on data it says is filled with inconsistencies.
The Malaysia Airlines disaster, too, captivated the world long after the plane disappeared shortly after takeoff in the early hours of March 8. Eventually, aircraft, ships and searchers from 26 countries were assembled to look for the wreckage. In October, a contractor dispatched ships with high-tech sonar to scan 23,000 square miles of Indian Ocean floor. But the job could take until at least next May, officials say, and no wreckage has ever been found.
"The sense of helplessness, the feeling of powerlessness, and the pain have not eased but only worsened as times goes by," said Liu Weijie, whose wife was aboard the flight. He was speaking after 100 days passed without any sign of the jet.
Meanwhile, violence in the Middle East once again took command of the headlines, sometimes in ways that shocked even a public numbed by the region's tense history.
The worst violence broke out in Libya since dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown, after the Islamists in control of the national congress ignored a general's February order to dissolve the chamber. With militias in control of Tripoli, the year ended with the country split by two governments, two parliaments, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced.
In Gaza, the June kidnapping of three Israeli teens by Hamas operatives brought a crackdown by Israeli forces, retaliatory rocket attacks and a 50-day war that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 72 Israelis. But it ended with no hint of a route toward resolution.
After nearly four years of civil war in Syria, the U.S. and other countries appeared stuck in a circular debate about whether and how to intercede. But the radical Islamic State group's rapid expansion, capped by militants' videotaped beheadings of Western hostages, jarred an expanding coalition to launch a campaign of more 1,000 bombing attacks on IS strongholds in Iraq and Syria. As the year ends, though, leaders cautioned that their vows to destroy the insurgency could take years to fulfill.
"We recognize that hard work remains to be done," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said.
Even as the war on the Islamic State group began, Americans turned their attention to suburban St. Louis, where in August a white police officer fatally shot black 18-year-old Michael Brown, after stopping him and a friend for walking in the middle of the street. Exactly what happened was clouded by conflicting witness accounts. Brown's death, and a grand jury's decision not to charge the officer, prompted a furor over law enforcement's treatment of young, black men. Other police killings in New York, Cleveland and elsewhere just fed the public's frustration.
The year's string of unsettling news stories continued through its final weeks, when a gunman's siege of a Sydney cafe ended with two hostages dead, and the U.S. accused North Korea of responsibility for a hacking attack on Sony that roiled the studio and the film industry.
If any news event offered the chance for resolution, it was the November elections that presented fed-up voters with a means for shaking up the status quo.
That's just what they did, handing Republicans control of the Senate they sought to battle President Barack Obama and boosting the party's strength in a number of statehouses.
But there's been little sign that will break gridlock in Washington, where Obama's recent decisions — particularly an executive order curbing deportations — have stirred intense GOP enmity. With the election over, public disenchantment has remained in place, with polls showing that two of every three Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, despite continued improvement in the economy.
Clearly, not all of the news stories of the past year lacked resolution. Obama's December announcement that the U.S. would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than half century prompted both celebration and disdain.
There were winners and losers at the Winter Olympics and the World Cup — which spotlighted athletic excellence, along with Russia's outsized spending and Brazil's political discontent. The number of states allowing same-sex marriage doubled this year, reflecting shifting attitudes and politics.
In South Korea, parents grieving over the April ferry sinking that killed 300, most of them high school students, saw the captain sentenced to 36 years in prison, fixing some measure of responsibility, but without closure.
But those headlines could not distract from the larger narrative of a country and world faced by daunting challenges and few answers within reach. That was clear in late October, when Peter Foley, an Australian coordinating the hunt for the vanished Malaysia Airlines jet, faced questions about its direction.
"We are in for the long haul," Foley said.
He was referring only to the searchers and their role in trying to bring resolution to a singular conundrum. But he could just as well have been speaking about the challenges raised by any one of numerous news events in 2014, a year when making sense of the headlines required patience, but did little to reward it.
Adam Geller can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AdGeller
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — It's after 9 p.m. on a Sunday night in late November and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is deep into a conference call, talking about nuclear weapons and Iran.
One voice is advocating a hard line, arguing against allowing Iran any capability to enrich uranium. Another summarizes the status of current negotiations and argues that forcing Iran to give up enrichment entirely isn't realistic.
This is how Christie has spent many of his nights during a year in which he raised record-setting amounts of campaign cash for his fellow Republican governors and methodically tried to recover from a political scandal involving traffic jams near a New York City bridge. Late at night, away from the spotlight of the midterm elections and 2016 speculation, he's been on the phone with some of the brightest foreign policy minds in the Republican Party, getting ready to run for president.
"They've been much more quiet in general in their outreach and their approach than, say, (Texas Gov.) Rick Perry, who's been very public and active," said Lanhee Chen, who served as 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney's chief policy adviser and is among those that Christie's aides have sought out for guidance.
"And I think that reflects a difference in terms of what they perceive that they need to accomplish here very early on to be viable as presidential candidates," Chen said.
Such preparation is expected from prospective White House candidates, especially those such as Christie, a long-time politician in New Jersey and former U.S. attorney who lacks the foreign policy experience of the favorite for the Democratic nomination, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But the previously undisclosed prep sessions are another indication that Christie's political ambitions are undeterred by the George Washington Bridge scandal and the all-but-formal entry into the 2016 campaign of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a competitor for support among donors eager to back an establishment nominee.
The briefing efforts are led by Bob Grady, a longtime adviser to Christie and a former White House official who has become the point-man on policy in the tight-knit Christie circle. Assisting is Bob Zoellick, the former president of the World Bank and U.S. Trade Representative, and Brian Hook, a former assistant secretary of state who was the Romney campaign's senior adviser on foreign policy.
Zoellick and Grady said some of the sessions have covered Christie's recent trips to Mexico and Canada. Other topics have included Ukraine and Russia, the Islamic State, Syria and Iraq, Iran, and the U.S. defense budget.
The calls, which generally last about 90 minutes, typically begin with several experts discussing a region's history, recent developments and the views of foreign leaders of the countries involved, followed by a detailed question and answer session. The format is designed, they said, to expose Christie to multiple points of view and help him build a deeper understanding of history and world affairs.
"The idea is, the governor will form his own views, and this is the stage where he can get some sort of range of perspectives, some sense of questions that he should be thinking about," Zoellick said. "I personally think, having been through these since the '88 campaign in one form or another, is that it's the best way for him to actually think through and develop a foundation."
Christie has also met one-on-one or on the phone with officials, business leaders and academics, including former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Henry Kissinger, and Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass.
While selling himself as a brash straight-talker, Christie has been notably reluctant to share his views about policy issues that fall outside his wheelhouse as governor. That includes immigration, which Christie has repeatedly said he won't discuss unless he chooses to run.
That has triggered criticism, with a Washington Post columnist suggesting Christie was at risk of becoming the "Rick Perry of 2016" — a reference to the Texas governor's dismal performance in 2012 and his inability to recall in one debate the details of his own plan to eliminate three federal departments.
While Christie and his aides have also been reluctant to share other details about their preparations, members of his team, led by his chief political adviser Mike DuHaime and money man Bill Palatucci, have begun a quiet outreach effort to potential donors as well as conservative activists, people familiar with the efforts said.
One of Christie's most loyal cheerleaders, Ken Langone, the billionaire founder of Home Depot, told The Associated Press that he's been chatting up friends and associates who may also be interested in backing a Christie campaign.
"As I talk, I'm keeping a list of people that, if the governor decides to run, these are the people I'm going to go to and say, 'Would you like to help?' " he said.
There is more to be done, and soon, should Christie want to stay competitive in a race defined by Bush's announcement last week that he plans to "actively explore" a campaign.
Christie's people have been less aggressive in feeling out potential staffers in early voting states, and he does not have any kind of political action committee to allow him to raise money to pay for his travel and other campaign preparation.
With nearly a dozen potential candidates raring to go, there is little time left for the behind-the-scenes approach. Florida's Mel Sembler, a former finance chair of the Republican National Committee, said he received a flurry of calls from donors last week telling him, "We're ready," following Bush's announcement.
"Sides," Sembler said, "are beginning to be drawn."
HAVANA (AP) — U.S. tourists are roaming the streets of Old Havana, listening to lectures on Art Deco architecture and meeting with jazz musicians. What they aren't doing yet — at least most of the time — is lounging in the sun and sipping mojitos at white-sand-beach resorts.
American citizens have been allowed to visit Cuba on such "people to people" trips since 2011, one of President Barack Obama's first moves toward detente with the communist-run island — provided their scheduled activities are sufficiently educational, and down time is kept to a minimum.
Now, such cultural exchanges are not only expected to grow dramatically, they are expected to become more flexible and less bureaucratic following last week's announcement by Cuba and the U.S. that they would work to restore normal diplomatic relations for the first time in more than 50 years.
Obama has said the U.S. is easing the rules on visiting Cuba, and that will mean major changes for the trips, which are currently so tightly regulated that operators must submit extensive documentation to the Treasury Department, including detailed justification for all activities to prove they are sufficiently educational. That may help cut the costs for trips that can cost much as a good used car back home.
For Americans who don't have family on the island or fit into one of the handful of other categories for legal visits, the trips have been the only way to visit the island. General tourism to Cuba is still prohibited by the half-century old trade embargo, and it would take an act of Congress to lift it.
"We can't go to the beach and drink mojitos all day," said Tony Pandola, who was leading an eight-day trip to the island this week with Global Expeditions of San Francisco, California, that included a guided architecture tour of Havana.
The new Treasury Department rules have not yet been released, but a White House statement suggests that educational travel to Cuba will now be covered by a "general license," which means tour operators — and perhaps individuals, depending on how the regulations are written — will be able to head to Cuba and simply give the U.S. government their word that they're not engaging in ordinary tourism.
Travelers may simply have to sign a form and board a charter flight, making it easier and cheaper to visit the island, experts say.
"As long as, with integrity, they can say they're going to engage with the Cuban people and learn about Cuba and talk about the United States then they don't have to do anything other than say that's what they're doing," said John McAuliff, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, which has organized trips in the past.
The changes should add some flexibility to trips that tend to be pretty wonky, less of a sun-and-sand vacation and more like a seminar. Jonathan Anderson, a 33-year-old from Denver on the Global Expeditions tour was spending a sunny Sunday morning in Havana on an architecture tour, attended a dance exhibition the day before and met with a Cuban diplomat.
"It's not very, very regimented because we can go out and see things but we have to conform to the rules," said Anderson, who was on an eight-day trip with his parents that cost them about $6,000 each, including a charter flight to the island. "But we're not on a leash. We can wander around."
There are already scores of trips on all sorts of topics: baseball, architecture, dance, photography, bird-watching, cigars, churches, visits to colonial cities and to scenic rural parks. Visitors can run in the Havana Marathon or cheer for the Industriales baseball team.
Critics sometimes complain that the trips already veer into tourism, with occasional group chats and lectures on politics and culture thrown in.
And while education is the primary purpose of these trips, some travelers readily admit the appeal of Cuba is a mix of the exotic and the basic desire for sunny weather.
"I thought, OK, I'm going to go somewhere I have no idea about, that has music that I'm going to learn about that I really don't have any idea about," said Katja Von Tiesenhausen, a 41-year-old emergency room doctor from Boston who was on a tour that included the Havana Jazz Festival.
Dozens of operators offer people-to-people travel at prices that typically range from $2,000 to $6,000. Some cater to specific groups such as academic and legal organizations and others are for the general public. The precise number of people who take them is unknown but experts say most of the 100,000 or so non-Cuban Americans who visit the island legally each year came by this route. That is expected to increase amid renewed interest in the country following Obama's Dec. 17 announcement of restored relations after two decades of hostility.
"In the last week, I've gotten more calls and emails than ever," said Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, which last year brought 3,000 people to Cuba.
The easing of tourism regulations is a gamble for both the U.S. and Cuba.
Obama said Wednesday that "people-to-people" was a way to "empower the Cuban people." At the same time, a surge in U.S. travel could funnel sorely needed cash to a tourism industry run mostly by what Obama described Friday as "a regime that represses its people."
But that hasn't stopped many Americans from traveling to Cuba through a third country and keeping quiet about it when they go through immigration and customs upon arrival back in the United States.
Tom Popper, president of tour organizer Insight Cuba, said he thinks many new travelers to Cuba will take organized tours because it can be difficult for an individual to organize a trip that meets Treasury Department requirements.
Still, eliminating the license requirement will remove a significant bureaucratic hurdle, according to Popper, whose last application was more than 700 pages long.
"This is such welcome news to us," Popper said.
Associated Press writers Michael Weissenstein and Peter Orsi contributed to this report.
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis issued a blistering critique Monday of the Vatican bureaucracy that serves him, denouncing how some people lust for power at all costs, live hypocritical double lives and suffer from "spiritual Alzheimer's" that has made them forget they're supposed to be joyful men of God.
Francis' Christmas greeting to the cardinals, bishops and priests who run the Holy See was no joyful exchange of holiday good wishes. Rather, it was a sobering catalog of 15 sins of the Curia that Francis said he hoped would be atoned for and cured in the New Year.
He had some zingers: How the "terrorism of gossip" can "kill the reputation of our colleagues and brothers in cold blood." How cliques can "enslave their members and become a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body" and eventually kill it by "friendly fire." About how those living hypocritical double lives are "typical of mediocre and progressive spiritual emptiness that no academic degree can fill."
"The Curia is called on to always improve itself and grow in communion, holiness and knowledge to fulfill its mission," Francis said. "But even it, as any human body, can suffer from ailments, dysfunctions, illnesses."
Francis, who is the first Latin American pope and never worked in the Italian-dominated Curia before he was elected, has not shied from complaining about the gossiping, careerism and bureaucratic power intrigues that afflict the Holy See. But as his reform agenda has gathered steam, he seemed even more emboldened to highlight what ails the institution.
The cardinals were not amused. The speech was met with tepid applause, and few were smiling as Francis listed one by one the 15 "Ailments of the Curia" that he had drawn up, complete with footnotes and Biblical references.
The annual Christmas greeting comes at a tense time for the Curia, the central administration of the Holy See which governs the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church. Francis and his nine key cardinal advisers are drawing up plans to revamp the whole bureaucratic structure, merging offices to make them more efficient and responsive.
The Vatican's finances are also in the midst of an overhaul, with Francis' finance czar, Cardinal George Pell, imposing new accounting and budget measures on traditionally independent congregations not used to having their books inspected.
Yet it was perhaps Pell that Francis had in mind when he complained about the temptation to lust for power even if it means defaming or discrediting others "even in newspapers or magazines, to show themselves as more capable ... in the name of justice and transparency."
Pell recently penned an explosive essay in Britain's Catholic Herald in which he said his team had discovered that the financial situation of the Holy See was "much healthier than it seemed, because some hundreds of millions of euros were tucked away in particular sectional accounts and did not appear on the balance sheet."
The Vatican later clarified that the money hadn't been hidden and that nothing illicit was going on, just that the funds didn't appear on the Vatican's balance sheet. Over the weekend, the Jesuit magazine America reported that an internal Vatican memo had undercut Pell's claim of having found the cash in the first place, saying the funds kept in the Vatican Secretariat of State were well-known, duly reported, were used to cover Vatican losses and special projects and actually had been well-managed over the years.
Francis started off his list with the "ailment of feeling immortal, immune or even indispensable."
Then one-by-one he went on: Being vain. Wanting to accumulate things. Having a "hardened heart." Wooing superiors for personal gain. Having a "funereal face" and being too "rigid, tough and arrogant," especially toward underlings — a possible reference to the recently relieved Swiss Guard commander said to have been too tough on his recruits for Francis' tastes.
Some critiques could have been seen as worthy of praise: working too hard and planning too much ahead. But even those traits came in for criticism as Francis noted that people who don't take time off to be with family are overly stressed, and those who plan everything to a "T'' don't allow themselves to be surprised by the "freshness, fantasy and novelty" of the Holy Spirit.
"How good it is for us to have a healthy sense of humor," he said.
At the end of the speech, Francis asked the prelates to pray that the "wounds of the sins that each one of us carries are healed" and that the Church and Curia itself are made healthy.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Alarmed by increasing encounters between small drones and manned aircraft, drone industry officials said Monday they are teaming up with the government and model aircraft hobbyists to launch a safety campaign.
The campaign includes a website — www.knowbeforeyoufly.com — which advises both recreational and commercial drone operators of FAA regulations and how to fly their unmanned aircraft safely. The campaign was announced by Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and the Small UAV Coalition, both industry trade groups, and the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which represents model aircraft hobbyists, in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration.
The two industry trade groups also said they plan to distribute safety pamphlets at industry events, and are working with drone manufacturers to see that safety information is enclosed inside the package of new drones.
Retailers say small drones, which are indistinguishable from today's more sophisticated model aircraft, are flying off the shelves this Christmas.
"In just a few days, kids old and young will unwrap presents, and many of them — maybe tens of thousands — will have unmanned aircraft," Michael Toscano, president of the unmanned vehicle association, said in a conference call with reporters. "This technology is very accessible and in very high demand, but information on how to fly safety isn't readily available. That's why we've created this safety campaign."
The FAA is concerned that amateurs are using the drones in a reckless manner, increasing the likelihood of a collision that could bring down a plane or rain debris down on people. The agency has been receiving about 25 reports per month this year of drones sighted flying near manned aircraft or airports, up from just a handful of reports two years ago.
"This is an issue of growing concern," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "The price of unmanned aircraft has come down and this newer and more powerful technology is more affordable to more people, yet many are not familiar with the rules of flying."
Small drones are available today for as little as a few hundred dollars. As of the end of 2013, about 1 million small drones had been sold worldwide for recreational and commercial use, according to industry estimates. Sales this year are expected to significantly outdistance previous tallies. Catalogs life Hammacher Schlemmer and Brookestone have prominently feature small drones this Christmas, while online retailer Amazon is offering more than a dozen different models priced from as little as $30 to nearly $3,000.
"Many of these operators have no aviation history, background or knowledge," Margaret Gilligan, FAA's associate administrator for safety, told a recent forum hosted by the Air Line Pilots Association. "They think they just bought something fun that they just want to fly around. They don't for a moment think, 'I'm entering the national airspace system.' "
Such operators don't intend to interfere with manned aircraft, but "they just don't know what they don't know," she said.
In response to safety concerns, Amazon created a special webpage on it's website with safety information for drone customers.
But Ben Berman, an airline captain who flies Boeing 737s, told the same forum that "the current situation is out of control."
"An education campaign on Amazon.com is not adequate," he said. "Yes, if my aircraft goes down and we are mourning something strong will happen, but we can't allow that to happen to me or anybody else."
Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy