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Mourners gather in Detroit to bid farewell to ‘Mr. Hockey’ Gordie Howe

Mourners are bidding a final farewell to Gordie Howe at a Detroit cathedral today.

Fellow Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky, Guy Lafleur and Yvan Cournoyer along with top executives Gary Bettman, Brian Burke and Glen Sather, as well as former Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman, are among the some 900 people attending Mr. Hockey’s funeral.

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    READ MORE: Gordie Howe’s life in Saskatoon: The early years of Mr. Hockey

    Dozens of fans waited in light rain to land a seat inside Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Two large buses – with signs displaying “Farewell Gordie Howe” also dropped off mourners.

    Murray Howe, one of the hockey great’s four children, gave a heartfelt eulogy that included countless amusing and touching stories about his father.

    He said there are “endless superlatives that come to mind when describing my dad.”

    WATCH BELOW: Gordie Howe’s son Murray Howe spoke about how hockey shaped and influenced the former Red Wings captain’s identity

    Murray called his father fearless, loyal, tough, graceful, playful and thoughtful.

    Howe died Friday at 88.

    “How do I do justice to the life of a living legend – my own hero? I still pinch myself at the realization that he was my father,” Murray said.

    Murray recalled that he once asked his father, who suffered a stroke in 2014, what he wanted him to say in his eulogy.

    “He said ‘Say this: Finally, the end of the third period. Then he added ‘I hope there’s a good hockey team in heaven,’” Murray recalled. “Dad all I can say is, once you join the team, they won’t just be good, they will be great.”

    WATCH BELOW: Murray Howe, the youngest son of Gordie Howe, spoke at the funeral for “Mr. Hockey” on Wednesday

    Howe came down with pneumonia earlier this spring and while he recovered, he “lost his desire to eat or drink after that,” Murray said.

    “It was clear he was no longer having fun,” he said. “Dad always said ‘If it’s not fun, it’s time to do something else. So we filled his final days surrounding him with friends and family and he knew he was loved.”

    “Mr. Hockey left the world with no regrets and although he did not lead the league in church attendance, his life has been the epitome of a faithful servant.”

    Murray, a doctor, spoke on behalf of the family. Howe also left behind hockey-playing sons Mark and Marty, his daughter Cathy and nine grandchildren. His wife Colleen died in 2009 from Pick’s disease.

    READ MORE: Gordie Howe to lie in repose at Joe Louis Arena ahead of funeral

    Father J.J. Mech, who presided over the service, also shared several classic Howe anecdotes, while some of Howe’s grandchildren delivered readings.

    The funeral comes a day after thousands of people, famous and relatively anonymous, paid respects to Howe during a visitation at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday.

    “He was a real gentleman,” Lafleur said as he entered the church Wednesday. “He was great. He was just unbelievable for hockey and what he did for the NHL.”

    Former Red Wings coaches Scotty Bowman and Mike Babcock as well as current and former Red Wings players were also among the mourners at the church, which once hosted Pope John Paul II and is about 10 kilometres from Joe Louis Arena.

    Howe set NHL marks with 801 goals and 1,850 points that held up until Gretzky broke them.

    Gretzky reckons he was about five years old when he first saw Howe on television.

    READ MORE: Gordie Howe’s career by the numbers

    He immediately became a fan of the Red Wings star. Gretzky soon had a red and white No. 9 jersey – still his all-time favourite Christmas gift – and even wanted to look like the rugged forward from Floral, Sask.

    A couple years later, Gretzky walked into a barber shop in his hometown of Brantford, Ont., with a specific look in mind.

    “I said, ‘I want a Gordie Howe haircut,”‘ Gretzky recalled at Tuesday’s visitation. “So I was enamoured by him from a young age.”

    After spending a few hours on the arena floor during the visitation, Gretzky weighed in on how “Mr. Hockey” became his idol and a longtime friend.

    “I was really lucky,” he said. “Not everybody gets to meet their hero or their idol and sometimes when you meet them it wasn’t as good as you thought it was going to be.

    “And man, I got so lucky that the guy I chose happened to be so special.”

    Howe made his debut with the Red Wings in 1946 and spent most of his long career in Detroit. He won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer on six occasions and also won the Hart Trophy as MVP six times.

    Known for his famous elbows, Howe had a wicked mean streak. Off the ice though, he was gentle and soft spoken.

    “He was a special guy,” Gretzky said. “He never asked for anything from anybody. But he would do anything for anyone.”

    READ MORE: Sidney Crosby looks back on encounter with ‘role model’ Gordie Howe

    Gretzky added that it wouldn’t matter if you were a server in a restaurant or the Prime Minister, Howe treated everyone the same.

    “He had a way with being able to talk to anybody and everybody and put everybody at ease,” he said. “He was just genuinely that nice, just a really good person.”

    Gretzky said he felt somewhat embarrassed about breaking Howe’s records because their eras were so different.

    He recalled a chat he had with his father Walter when he was close to breaking Howe’s mark of 1,850 career points.

    “My dad said, ‘He’s what you should be when somebody is closing in on your records. He’s genuinely happy for you and that’s more important than anything,”‘ Gretzky said.

    Known for his famous elbows, Howe had a wicked mean streak. Off the ice though, he was gentle and soft spoken.

    “He was a special guy,” Gretzky said. “He never asked for anything from anybody. But he would do anything for anyone.”

    With files from The Associated Press

Crew in deadly Ornge helicopter crash not prepared for night flight: TSB

TORONTO – Transportation safety officials said Wednesday that the crew of an Ornge air ambulance helicopter that crashed in 2013, killing four people on board, was not adequately trained and equipped to fly in total darkness.

The Sikorsky S-76A helicopter was en route to pick up a patient in the remote James Bay community of Attawapiskat when it crashed in Moosonee, Ont., shortly after midnight on May 31, 2013.

“Ornge did not have sufficient, experienced resources in place to effectively manage safety,” said Kathy Fox, chair of the Transportation Safety Board.

The Board’s report found the helicopter climbed about 90 metres in complete darkness on takeoff, but the angle of bank increased during a turn, causing the aircraft to inadvertently start descending.

WATCH: Liberals to review TSB report on Ornge helicopter crash

The pilots didn’t notice until it was too late and the helicopter crashed less than two kilometres from the airport – and just 23 seconds after takeoff – killing the captain, first officer and two paramedics on board.

“The aircraft was destroyed by impact forces and the ensuring post-crash fire,” said the TSB report.

Handout / TSB

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    It’s critical that pilots using visual flight rules, like they were in Moosonee that night, have strong night and instrument flying skills, said TSB investigator Daryl Collins.

    “As the crew turned towards Attawapiskat, they were turning into an area of total darkness, devoid of any ambient or cultural lighting; no town, no moon, no stars,” he said. “Although both pilots were qualified according to the regulations, they lacked the necessary night and instrument flying proficiency to safely conduct this flight.”

    Collins criticized Ornge for not ensuring the pilots were “operationally ready” for the flight, and said they had not received sufficient and adequate training.

    “Nor did the company’s standard operating procedures address the hazards specific to night operations,” he said. “Compounding this was the issue of insufficient and inexperienced personnel in key positions, which led to some company policies being bypassed, and ultimately, a sub-optimal crew pairing that night.”

    The investigation also found that the regulator, Transport Canada, knew that Ornge was struggling to comply with regulations, added Collins.

    “The training and guidance provided to Transport Canada inspectors led to inconsistent and ineffective surveillance,” he said.

    Fox said the system let the Ornge helicopter crew down by putting them in a situation for which they were not operationally ready.

    “This accident goes beyond the actions of a single flight crew,” she said.

    “That’s why today we are making 14 recommendations to address safety deficiencies we’ve identified in Canada’s aviation system, recommendations aimed at improving the equipment on board aircraft, at changing the rules by which pilots operate and how and when they’re qualified to fly, and finally, at how Transport Canada oversees the entire system.”

    The TSB wondered when and how Transport Canada should intervene in cases when it has significant concerns with an operator, as it did with Ornge.

    “When is enough enough?” asked Fox.

    READ MORE: Ornge failed to protect health and safety of pilots: federal investigators

    The TSB recommends all commercial air operators implement a formal safety management system, and wants Transport Canada to conduct regular assessments of those systems.

    “Transport Canada needs to adapt its surveillance policies, procedures and inspector training to ensure that it’s oversight activities are commensurate not just with an operator’s willingness to identify and fix problems, but with its capability to effectively do so,” said Fox.

    Ornge said it has made many changes since the 2013 crash, including taking that model of helicopter ambulance out of service, hiring new staff with extensive experience, introducing a proficiency flying program and acquiring night vision goggles for pilots.

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French police alerted to ISIS fighters possibly en route to Europe to stage attacks

PARIS – French police and anti-terrorism investigators have been alerted to the possibility that small groups of extremists have left Syria for France and Belgium with plans to stage attacks.

Belgian intelligence services sent a note to French counterparts about the possible groups, and it was sent to police across France on Tuesday, a French security official said Wednesday.

French authorities remain “very cautious” about the information because they receive such notes routinely, the official said.

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The official said the information does not change the French government’s overall understanding of the threat. France is already under high alert because Islamic State extremists targeted Paris last year and have threatened violence during the European Championship soccer tournament taking place at the moment.

READ MORE: Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam charged with attempted murder over Belgium shootout

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to be able to discuss sensitive security information, had no information about specific targets or how many extremists could be en route.

Belgium’s Derniere Heure tabloid reported Wednesday that Belgium’s anti-terror office has warned police that fighters with access to weapons could have left Syria about 10 days ago bound for Belgium and France. It was the latest of several recent reports that fighters from Syria could pose an imminent threat.

The paper, which said it had obtained an alert message, said fighters travelling without passports were believed to be trying to reach Europe by boat via Turkey and Greece. A Brussels shopping mall, an American fast-food chain and police could be among their targets.

Belgium’s security threat analysis centre said Wednesday it is keeping the country’s security alert status at its current level.

“We are still on level three, quite a high level of threat,” said Benoit Ramacker, spokesman for the Crisis Center. Level three out of a possible four means the threat is considered serious, possible and probable.

Ramacker said, “these kinds of potential targets are under protection anyway” and that “nothing has changed in terms of security.”

READ MORE: 3 detained in Brussels for questioning in connection to Paris attacks

He declined to comment specifically on the reports, saying only that “there is a lot of information coming in.”

Belgium has been on level three or above since November, in the wake of the massacres in Paris that killed 130 people, with extra police and military mobilized.

It’s not the first report that fighters might have been dispatched to Europe since the March 22 suicide attacks on the Brussels airport and subway that killed 32. On April 19, Crisis Center chief Paul Van Tigchelt said there were signals from Islamic State that fighters were sent to Europe, including Belgium.

The French official said it is unclear whether the Belgian note could have any link to an attack Monday night by an Islamic State extremist who killed two French police officials.

The stabbing in a Paris suburb revived French concerns about the IS threat. France’s president and prime minister warned on Wednesday that the world faces a long war to defeat terrorism.

“I said we were at war, that this war will take a generation, that it will be long,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on France Inter radio.

—;

Cook reported from Brussels. Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed.

Russian athletes beg to be allowed to compete in Rio

Russian athletes pleaded Wednesday to be allowed to compete at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, making their case two days before the IAAF decides whether to lift its ban on the country’s track and field team.

The Russian Olympic Committee athletes’ commission sent a letter to IOC President Thomas Bach asking for “your support in upholding” the right of clean athletes to take part in the games.

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READ MORE: Russia is ‘very sorry’ for doping, says sports minister

“We ask you and the International Olympic Committee to take a humanitarian attitude to the many athletes whose fate is at stake and to take a balanced and wise decision,” the letter said.

Russia was suspended from international track and field by the IAAF in November after a World Anti-Doping Agency report alleged widespread, state-sponsored doping. The IAAF council meets Friday in Vienna to decide whether to maintain the ban.

The International Olympic Committee has scheduled a summit of sports leaders next Tuesday to consider Russia’s eligibility

The Russian athletes said in their letter that a ban from Rio would be collective punishment for the misdeeds of a minority and would “truly have a destructive effect on the whole system of Olympic values and cause irreparable damage to the development of sport in Russia.”

READ MORE: Canadian Olympic gold medallist Beckie Scott urges WADA to ensure Russians are drug-free in Rio

The letter states that, in order to be allowed to compete, Russia’s track team would face extra drug testing and athletes who have served drug bans at any time would not be selected.

As a result of those measures, “it is guaranteed that our athletes are clean; none of them have ever taken banned substances and there are no suspicions about them,” the letter said. “”Please, tell us what else we must do to convince the Olympic community of our commitment to the fight against doping.”

The letter was provided to The Associated Press by athletes’ commission head Olga Brusnikina, a former synchronized swimmer who has also had a role in overseeing reforms at the Russian track federation since it was suspended in November.

The commission consists of 13 athletes, most of them retired. Eight are Olympic gold medallists and two have faced accusations of doping.

READ MORE: How the Russians got away with doping, according to the WADA

Among the members is two-time Olympic bobsled gold medallist Alexander Zubkov, who has denied accusations from former Russian anti-doping laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov that he doped at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Also on the commission is figure skater Ekaterina Bobrova, who served a brief provisional suspension this year after a positive test for the banned substance meldonium. The suspension was lifted because of the low concentration of the substance in her sample, but no final decision on her case has been made public.

Body recovered of boy, 2, dragged into water by alligator at Disney World: officials

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The body of a 2-year-old Nebraska boy who was snatched off a Walt Disney World beach by an alligator and dragged underwater was recovered Wednesday, ending a ghastly search at one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

Divers found the body of Lane Graves about 16 hours after authorities first got the call that a reptile had taken the boy from the water’s edge at Seven Seas Lagoon despite his father’s frantic attempt to save the child.

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READ MORE: Gator drags toddler into water near Disney resort

Sheriff Jerry Demings said it appeared the gator pulled the child into deeper water and drowned him, leaving the body near the spot where he was last seen. An autopsy was planned.

“Of course the family was distraught, but also I believe somewhat relieved that his body was found intact,” Demings told a news conference.

The boy’s parents were identified as Matt and Melissa Graves of Elkhorn, Nebraska, a suburban area of Omaha. A family friend released a statement on behalf of the couple thanking well-wishers for their “thoughts and hope-filled prayers.”

CEO Michael Iaccarino of Infogroup, a marketing company where Matt Graves is chief data officer, said Grave’s family “is the light of his life.”

WATCH: Investigation into boy snatched by alligator remains ‘search and rescue’ operation

In a statement from Disney World Resort President George A. Kalogridis, the company said it was “doing what we can” to help the family.

Disney World closed beaches around Seven Seas Lagoon during the search, and it was not immediately clear when they would reopen.

While “no swimming” signs are posted at the beach where the boy was attacked, no signs warn about alligators. A company representative said it would “thoroughly review the situation for the future.”

Demings said his agency and state wildlife officials would look into the issue of warning signs. The sheriff told The Associated Press that investigators would also review whether the boy’s parents should be charged, but it’s not likely.

“There nothing in this case to indicate that there was anything extraordinary” in terms of neglect by the parents, Demings said.

Wildlife officials said the attack was a rarity in a state with a gator population estimated at 1 million. But it still spooked visitors in a city built on tourism.

“We have been to Yellowstone and encountered grizzly bears, but this is just freaky,” said Minnesota tourist John Aho, who was staying at the park with his wife, Kim, and their 12-year-old son, Johnny.

The child had waded no more than 1 or 2 feet into the water around nightfall Tuesday when he was taken from a small beach, authorities said.

The boy’s father desperately tried to fight off the gator, suffering lacerations on a hand, but he could not save his son. Neither could a nearby lifeguard, officials said.

READ MORE: Alligator captured after attacking, biting off swimmer’s arm in Florida

No other alligator attacks have been reported on the man-made lake, according to Demings.

Some visitors were surprised to learn the reptiles lived on the property.

“My question is why are there alligators in there?” said Michelle Stone, who lives near Detroit and was visiting Disney for 10 days with her two children.

The sheriff said the company has a wildlife management system and has “worked diligently to ensure their guests are not unduly exposed to wildlife here in this area.”

WATCH: The search was continues Wednesday morning after a two-year-old boy who was dragged into the water by an alligator near Disney’s upscale Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.

Nick Wiley with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said witnesses estimated the alligator was 4 feet to 7 feet long. Crews removed five gators from the lake during the search, and officials said one could have been the animal that attacked the boy.

The beach where the reptile grabbed the child is part of the luxury Grand Floridian resort, across the lake from Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park. The lake stretches over about 200 acres and reaches a depth of 14 feet. It feeds into a series of canals that wind through the entire Disney property.

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Though Florida has grown to the nation’s third-most populous state, fatal alligator attacks remain rare. Since 1973, 23 people had been killed by wild alligators in Florida, according to data compiled by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The boy makes 24.

The grim news was only the latest for a city buffeted by tragedy in the past few days.

On Sunday, a gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, leaving 49 people dead in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. On Friday night, Christina Grimmie, 22, a contestant on season six of “The Voice,” was fatally shot as she signed autographs after a show in Orlando.

Associated Press writers Jason Dearen and Joshua Replogle in Lake Buena Vista; Freida Frisaro and Jennifer Kay in Miami; and Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed to this report.

Alligator Attacks in the United States | Graphiq