NEW YORK (AP) — With a flick of the switch, a 76-foot Norway Spruce officially became the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree after it was illuminated for the first time this holiday season in a ceremony that's been held since 1933.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg turned on the lights just before 9 p.m. Wednesday, setting off a dazzling 45,000 multi-colored LED lights and a 9 ½ foot wide Swarovski star that topped the 12 ton tree.
Adam Connery, 41, and his wife Kristy Connery, 37, from Tyngsborough, Mass., watched the ceremony on their first vacation to New York City.
"It's gorgeous, it's enormous," said Kristy Connery of the massive tree towering above the hundreds of thousands of people who gathered to watch the ceremony. "Christmas is my favorite time of the year."
The holiday event in midtown Manhattan also was watched by millions on television. The tree will be on display until Jan. 7, after which it'll be milled into lumber for Habitat for Humanity.
Artists such as Mary J. Blige, the Goo Goo Dolls, Jewel, Mariah Carey and Leona Lewis performed.
Lamar Lakins, 37, a housekeeper from Queens, brought his wife, mother, 10 year old daughter Shanel, and newborn son to watch the performances and see the tree lighting.
He and Shanel danced together in the plaza during a performance of "Jingle Bells."
"I just love this," he said of the gathering. "It's just people out enjoying themselves. I'm definitely a fan of the holiday season."
The approximately 75 year old tree made the 70 mile trip to New York City on a tractor-trailer from its home in Shelton, Conn., last month.
Danbury, Conn., resident Mary Hynes, 60, declared the show to be "outstanding."
"The excitement of the crowd, the brilliance of the lights. It was great," she said.
"Today Show" personalities Matt Lauer, Al Roker, Savannah Guthrie and Natalie Morales co-hosted "Christmas in Rockefeller Center," which aired on NBC.
They dedicated the broadcast to James Lovell, 58, a married father of four and a sound and lighting expert who worked on the tree. Lovell was one of four people killed when a Metro-North commuter train derailed in the Bronx on Sunday. He was on his way to work on the tree when the accident occurred.
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican troops and federal police kept a nighttime watch on a rural field where thieves abandoned a stolen shipment of highly radioactive cobalt-60, while officials began planning the delicate task of recovering the dangerous material.
Juan Eibenschutz, director general of the National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards, said late Wednesday that it could take at least two days to safely get the material into a secure container and transport it to a waste site.
"It's a very delicate operation," Eibenschutz said. "What's important is that the material has been located and the place is being watched to guarantee no one gets close."
The missing shipment of radioactive cobalt-60 was found Wednesday near where the stolen truck transporting the material was abandoned in central Mexico.
The highly radioactive material had been removed from its container, officials said, and one predicted that anyone involved in opening the box could be in grave danger of dying within days.
The cobalt-60 was left in a rural area about a kilometer (a half a mile) from Hueypoxtla, a farm town of about 4,000 people, but it posed no threat to the residents and there was no evacuation, Eibenschutz said.
"Fortunately there are no people where the source of radioactivity is," Eibenschutz said.
Townspeople complained they hadn't been given any information about what had been found in the nearby field.
"We don't know anything," resident Jose Antonio Rosales told Milenio Television. "We don't know if it's good, if it's bad. The authorities haven't told us anything."
Federal police and military units on the scene threw up an armed cordon about 500 meters (yards) around the site.
Mardonio Jimenez, a physicist for the nuclear commission, said it was the first time cobalt-60 had been stolen and extracted from its container in Mexico. The only threat was to whoever opened the box and later discarded the pellets of high-intensity radioactive material inside, he said.
"The person or people who took this out are in very great risk of dying," Jimenez said, adding that the normal survival rate would be between one and three days.
He said there was no word so far of anyone reporting to area hospitals with radiation exposure. He said those who exposed themselves to the pellets could not contaminate others.
The cargo truck hauling the cobalt-60 was stolen from a gas station early Monday in the neighboring state of Hidalgo, about 40 kilometers (24 miles) from where the material was recovered, Jimenez said. Authorities had put out an alert in six central states and the capital looking for it.
The material had been removed from obsolete radiation therapy equipment at a hospital in the northern city of Tijuana and was being transported to nuclear waste facility in the state of Mexico, which borders Mexico City.
Eibenschutz said there was nothing to indicate the thieves were after the cobalt or in any way intended for an act of terrorism, The thieves most likely wanted the white 2007 Volkswagen cargo vehicle with a moveable platform and crane , he said.
On average, a half dozen thefts of radioactive materials are reported in Mexico each year and none have proven to be aimed at the cargo itself, he said.
According to authorities, a truck marked "Transportes Ortiz" left Tijuana on Nov. 28 and was headed to the storage facility when the driver stopped to rest at a gas station in Tepojaco, in Hidalgo state north of Mexico City.
The driver told authorities he was sleeping in the truck when two men with a gun approached him. They made him get out, tied his hands and feet and left him in a vacant lot nearby.
Eibenschutz said the transport company did not follow proper procedures and should have had GPS and security with the truck.
"The driver also lacked common sense because he decided to park along a highway so he could sleep," he said.
The company that owns the truck couldn't immediately be located for comment. One Mexico City company called "Transportes Ortiz" said the truck was not theirs and they had nothing to do with the incident.
The NTSB and FAA are investigating a plane crash in Puerto Rico that killed a St. Louis native.
Monday night, 28 year old Steven Gullberg II and his co-pilot were killed when the cargo plane they were flying crashed along Puerto Rico's north coast. Authorities say the plane had been en route from the Dominican Republic when it descended rapidly over the mountains.
Gullberg was a Hazlewood Central High School graduate.
For the past three months Gullberg had worked for Fort Lauderdale based IBC Airways. Gullberg's family says he had expressed concerns about problems with the maintenance of the company's planes, even questioning their safety.