WQAD News

The Score Preview – Mercer County Football

Mercer County has made the playoffs every year since their merger. After a couple first round playoff loses the Golden Eagles are ready to get beyond that and make a deep run this year.  Mercer County has a new Offensive Coordinator and are looking to push the pace this season.

Iowa Football Media day

Full coverage of the Hawkeyes Media day.  Listen to what Coach Kirk Ferentz has to say about four players being suspended for their opening game against Northern Illinois.

Brian Ferentz is in his second year as offensive coordinator with the Hawks.  He is looking for that side of the ball to improve as they were the 10th best offense in the Big Ten.

There are four local players on this years Iowa Roster.  hear what Jake Gervase(Assumption) and Mark Kallenberger(Bettendorf) have to say about playing for Iowa this season.

YOUR HEALTH: Radiating the heart to stop a “ticking time bomb”

ST. LOUIS, Missouri – When Patty Sweeney developed an abnormally rapid heart rhythm, she knew something was wrong.

"You could just feel like your heart was just pounding really hard, you know, like boom, boom, boom, like it was going to jump out of your chest."

Patty has ventricular tachycardia, a dangerously fast heart rate often caused by scar tissue in the heart.   When traditional treatments failed, she worried a heart attack was next.

"I was too young for that, you know? Just way too young for that."

Ventricular tachycardia is an abnormally fast heart rate that is like a ticking time bomb.   There are 350,000 sudden cardiac deaths in the U.S. each year

Then she found cardiologist Phillip Cuculich and radiation oncologist Cliff Robinson.

"These patients are oftentimes looking for any level of help, any hope," said Dr. Cuculich, a Washington University cardiologist.

The doctors are combining their expertise, shooting focused beams of radiation at the heart to destroy the scar tissue.

"This was definitely the first time that I had ever purposely radiated the heart," said Dr. Robinson, a Washington University radiation oncologist.

STUDY:   Dr. Phillip Cuculich says use of radiation as an alternative treatment came from the need to map the heart in a different way.   The procedure is noninvasive and it targets very specific parts of the heart.   Five patients were treated in the study.   This new procedure is faster than the original catheter ablation.   The five patients had a quicker recovery time and looked well the day after the surgery took place.   The study completed Phase I/ Phase II in 2017.   The next step is a multicenter trial that will begin after a follow up period with the patients.    The results of the study so far have been positive.   Arrhythmias have been observed to disappear almost immediately after the surgery has been performed.   The long term effects of the use of radiation are still unknown and being studied.

The first five patients in their study collectively had 6500 ventricular tachycardia episodes in the three months before treatment.   In the one year follow-up, that number dropped to four.

"It's almost this on/off switch where you go from having a problem to not having a problem and that flip, I think, is really impressive," explained Dr. Robinson.

It worked for Patty.

"I go to bed and sleep just fine now and I don`t lay there and worry."

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

Oquawka man charged after attempting to strike officer with car in Galesburg

GALESBURG, Illinois - Kaleb Holzheuser, 29, faces a number of charges after an officer-involved shooting in Galesburg yesterday.

Holzheuser is charged with several felonies, including aggravated battery to a peace officer.

Police say around 4 o'clock Thursday afternoon, officers attempted to perform a traffic stop along north Cedar Street.  Just as the officer was getting out of his car, Holzheuser swerved his vehicle toward the officer.

Officers fired shots at the car, but no one was hit.

Some neighbors weren't surprised to hear what happened.

"Well I left Compton (California) for the same reason," said Veronica Manzo. "But I guess a Compton to another Compton."

A group of high school-aged girls raised in Galesburg also say it's not uncommon to see police patrolling the 400 to 500 blocks of North Cedar Street.

The officer struck by the car has been released from the hospital.

Holzheuser is being held on $750 thousand bond and will be back in court on August 27th for a preliminary hearing. He had recently been relieved from the Iowa Department of Corrections for other previous charges.

Growing crime in Whiteside County has homeowners and businesses concerned

MORRISON, Illinois  --  Whiteside County Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi says the county is seeing a spike in burglaries, especially in rural areas.

On Wednesday, August 8, River City Fencing in Fulton, Illinois was broken into. Sheriff Wilhelmi says the business lost thousands of dollars worth of products. He says he believes the main reason behind the increase in burglaries is drugs, like methamphetamine.

"In order for people to get their drugs, they are stealing everything that isn't tied down," Sheriff Wilhelmi said. "We are having a lot of problems with break ins, theft of property in barns and farmsteads, things like that."

Deputies have not been able to make any arrests in the burglary cases, but they can see the drug problem in their own jail. Sheriff Wilhelmi says the county jail had 108 inmates on Thursday August 7. The jail is built for 67 inmates, but with doubling up, the county is able to hold 127 inmates. Sheriff Wilhelmi says that 108 is an unusually high number for his county.

Drugs and burglaries are not the only problem the Sheriff's department is facing. Deputies are also getting calls about a suspicious white van.  One incident involved a teenage girl in North Morrison. She said she was approached by two men in a white van. The van drove off when her father came around the corner, but the encounter scared them enough to call police. The sheriff says that have had six total different reports similar to that one.

The sheriff's department does not know if there is any connection between the burglaries and the vans, but he encourages the public to report anything they see.

"Give us a call," Sheriff Wihelmi said. "Get some information. If you see a car, get a description of the people, get a license plate number if you can."

A bright and warm summer weekend is up ahead

A few isolated showers grazed our area this Friday afternoon, but they won’t be lasting too long after the sunset. We’ll see the sky clear out this evening with lows in the mid 60s. It will be perfect viewing for the Perseid Meteor Shower, which will peak this weekend! You can also catch it on Saturday and Sunday night.

Click here to learn where to look to see the meteor shower

Sunshine will stick around for both Saturday and Sunday, and we’ll easily warm up into the upper 80s on both days. Monday is looking bright and sunny as well with highs near 90.

While Tuesday is looking dry for the most part, showers and storms will begin to move in late in that night. More showers and storms are expected by Wednesday with highs in the mid 80s.

-Meteorologist Taylor Graham

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing date set for September 4

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(CNN) — President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next Supreme Court justice — Judge Brett Kavanaugh — will start his Senate confirmation hearings on September 4, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced Friday.

“He’s met with dozens of senators who have nothing but positive things to say,” Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said in a statement. “At this current pace, we have plenty of time to review the rest of emails and other records that we will receive from President Bush and the National Archives. It’s time for the American people to hear directly from Judge Kavanaugh at his public hearing.”

Grassley said he expects the hearing to last three or four days.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier Friday in a radio interview that he hopes Kavanaugh to be confirmed by the Senate “before the first Monday in October.”

CPO Amputee Golf Classic inspires participants and spectators in Bettendorf

BETTENDORF -  Sports can inspire us with dramatic moments in big stadiums.  But in this case, Palmer Hills Golf Course is equally uplifting.

It's a beautiful setting for some triumphant moments. None are more elegant than watching Fred Hynd play golf.

"One day of golf is better than any day at work," he said, on Friday, August 10.

This is the first CPO Amputee Golf Classic. Fred is teaming with Tara Ferencik.  She built his prosthetic leg at its Rock Island clinic.

"He's done remarkably well," she said.

Fred, who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident 20 years ago, knows a thing or two about overcoming obstacles. That makes the chance to meet other amputees even more special.

"Talk to people and find out what happened to them," he said.  "How their's works, and what they went through."

After partnering for years in the clinic, Fred and Tara are playing golf together for the first time.

"I've never had the opportunity," she said.  "And since he's hitting all the good drives, we're glad to have him."

The reunion is full of fun and one-liners. Nobody's too serious in this foursome.  After all, they already defeated hardship.

This tournament is all about beating the odds. A hundred golfers are just stepping up to play.

"We rarely all get to get together and really celebrate their rehab progress," said Stacy Powers, Comprehensive Prosthetics and Orthotics. "Celebrate them getting back to quality of life."

For Fred and Tara, teaming in adversity - motivating on the golf course.

"You guys have got to be good because I'm not that good," Fred concluded.  "But, so far, I've kept all my drives on the fairway."

Winning our hearts along the way, too.

 

More Illinois homeowners sinking underwater on mortgages

(Illinois News Network) – Illinois has more homeowners with mortgages that are higher than what their homes could fetch on the market than nearly any other state – and the problem is getting worse.

In the second quarter of 2018, 18 percent of Illinois’ homes were considered seriously underwater, or mortgaged for more than 25 percent of the potential sale price of the house. That’s according to ATTOM Data Solutions’report released Thursday. That’s higher than it has been since 2016. In some of Chicago’s western suburbs, more than 70 percent of homeowners owe 25 percent more than the price their home would sell for.

The national average for the second quarter was 10 percent.

Many of those areas are seeing big home value deficits because buyers pulled the trigger at the height of home prices. Geneva (76.0 percent); Elgin (75.5 percent); St. Charles (73.6 percent); and Sugar Grove (71.9 percent) were behind only Springfield, Missouri, in terms of percentage of residents more than 25 percent underwater on their homes.

“Even though those markets are recovering and home prices are coming back slowly, they haven’t recovered the equity loss during the downturn,” ATTOM vice president Daren Blomquist said.

Twelve of the top 20 markets for percentage of seriously underwater homes were in Illinois.

State

County

City

Population

Units

Underwater x 125%

Percentage

Missouri

Greene

Springfield

11,867

4,768

2,443

81.0%

Illinois

Kane

Geneva

29,127

10,579

6,514

76.0%

Illinois

Kane

Elgin

20,761

7,209

4,843

75.5%

Illinois

Kane

Saint Charles

26,334

8,427

5,325

73.6%

Illinois

Kane

Sugar Grove

11,877

4,287

2,566

71.9%

New Jersey

Mercer

Trenton

25,906

9,815

2,354

71.5%

Missouri

Greene

Springfield

22,857

9,448

3,840

71.5%

Illinois

Kane

Elburn

10,169

3,636

2,093

71.2%

Missouri

Jasper

Webb City

14,635

6,139

1,953

70.3%

Illinois

Kane

Saint Charles

31,047

12,850

5,477

67.6%

Illinois

Kane

Batavia

29,502

11,233

5,087

66.7%

Illinois

Kane

Dundee

15,705

6,490

2,849

66.2%

Pennsylvania

Clearfield

Du Bois

19,266

9,496

2,133

66.1%

Missouri

Greene

Republic

18,037

7,278

2,932

65.5%

Illinois

Kane

Hampshire

15,985

6,040

3,134

65.4%

Missouri

Saint Louis

Saint Louis

20,460

8,779

3,080

65.4%

Illinois

Kane

South Elgin

23,068

7,661

4,232

65.1%

Missouri

Jasper

Joplin

36,916

17,563

3,336

64.7%

Illinois

Cook

Harvey

29,826

14,140

2,561

64.6%

Illinois

Winnebago

Rockford

19,622

9,105

1,668

63.9%

Losses in population, seen in nearly every county in Illinois in 2017 Census reports, tend to push home values down since the demand for homes is slowed.

“It even makes it tougher for those who still own homes there to recover equity and, in fact, you may see them lose equity,” Blomquist said.

The city of Peoria, which saw the biggest percentage of population loss in 2017, had 46 and 29 percent of homes in it’s two zip codes register as seriously underwater.

North Korea rejecting US proposals in diplomatic standoff

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(CNN) — The US has made repeated proposals to North Korea on denuclearization, all of which have been rejected, according to senior diplomatic sources.

The United States has made, and continues to make, “specific proposals for starting and proceeding to the end point of fully verified denuclearization,” including a timeline, these sources say.

North Korea has rejected all of these proposals, considering them “gangster-like,” one of the sources said.

The impasse has brought the more typical grind of talks with Pyongyang that have stymied prior administrations.

The promises that emerged from President Donald Trump’s June summit with leader Kim Jong Un have led to a diplomatic disconnect. The document produced after the leaders met included no time frame and no specific promises or milestones to meet.

A ‘bold move’

While the US is demanding full, verifiable denuclearization and says it will maintain sanctions until that happens, North Korea says it wants sanctions pressure lifted and a peace treaty before it will take further steps.

Continued negotiations between the United States and North Korea hinge on Washington’s willingness to make a “bold move” and agree to a peace treaty with Pyongyang, according to an official with close knowledge of North Korea’s position on the matter.

The US has been asking for a big gesture on the part of North Korea, in the form of giving up a portion of its nuclear weapons in the near term. The diplomatic sources did not know of specific percentages or timeframes.

Kim Jong Un is insisting he will make a step towards denuclearization if the US moves on security concerns — likely meaning a peace proposal — but will not move otherwise, the diplomatic sources say.

Pyongyang points to goodwill gestures they say they’ve already made, including a halt in missile testing and the repatriation of US remains, arguing that the US is backtracking.

On Thursday, North Korea issued a forceful statement at the United Nations, saying that elements of the US government are not adhering to the spirit of the dialogue established by Trump and Kim at their Singapore summit.

Pyongyang said while it had taken “such practical denuclearization steps as discontinuing nuclear test and ICBM test fire” and “broadminded measures” like the repatriation of US Korean War remains, “the US responded to our expectation by inciting international sanctions and pressure against (North Korea).”

The statement, credited to North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, notably did not blame Trump, but singled out “some high-level officials within the US administration,” who it said were going against the President’s will. It also echoed criticism of previous administrations’ approaches to North Korea that Trump himself has made.

The statement seems intended to hit a target audience in the US, being released in English by North Korea’s mission to the United Nations in New York, rather than just through the state-run Korean Central News Agency, the usual avenue for government announcements.

The State Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Warren Buffett’s son announces $30M Illinois investment

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DECATUR, Ill. (AP) — The foundation of billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s son plans to invest $30 million in a central Illinois campus of facilities to help people with drug addiction and bring together social services.

The (Decatur) Herald and Review reports Macon County Sheriff Howard Buffett announced plans Wednesday in Decatur. Crossing Healthcare, which serves primarily low- and moderate-income residents, will own four new facilities including a residential rehabilitation building and outpatient treatment center.

Howard Buffett says the investment “will address the health of our community at multiple levels.”

Howard Buffett was appointed sheriff in September and was an executive at Archer Daniels Midland. Warren Buffett has helped the Howard G. Buffett Foundation by giving his Berkshire Hathaway stock. The foundation has donated millions of dollars to projects in central Illinois.

CNN contributed the video in this story

NAILED IT OR FAILED IT: Wacky Recipes for National S’mores Day

YOU'RE KILLING ME SMALLS! It's National S'mores Day AND it's Friday - What could be better? Our weekly Nailed It Or Failed It segment, of course!

To celebrate this very important holiday, we are trying out three wacky recipes that take your chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows up a notch.

First, we combined S'mores with the very popular Crunchwrap Supreme from Taco Bell and made these S'mores Crunchwraps on Good Morning Quad Cities. Click the video above to see how to make them! Here's the taste test:

Next, on WQAD News 8 at 11am, we attempted to make S'mores Sushi. This one is a little more complicated. Click the video below to see if it worked and then continue onto the next video to see what we made for our very unique Cocktail of the Week!

2 police officers among 4 killed in Canada shooting; a suspect is in custody

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(CNN) — Two police officers were among four people killed in a shooting in Fredericton, New Brunswick, police in the Canadian provincial capital said Friday.

“No names are being released at this time. Please appreciate this is a difficult time for their families and our colleagues,” Fredericton police said on Twitter.

A suspect is in custody, and the crime scene has been “contained,” police said. They said the investigation is ongoing and the suspect is being treated for serious injuries.

Police later said there was “no further threat to the public” and no need for any lockdowns.

A spokeswoman for Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital said it is treating multiple victims in the Fredericton shooting.

The shooting occurred in the Brookside Drive area of the city of about 60,000 people, police said. It took place around 7 a.m. local time.

“This is a developing situation and it is premature to determine whether there are any national security implications. The RCMP is providing support to the local Fredericton police force,” said Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, using the acronym for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

CNN network partner CTV said its reporter there said “police appeared to be focused on one particular residence” and that he heard four shots during a five-minute stretch.

“There is a police officer standing outside with a gun,” CTV Atlantic’s Nick Moore said on CTV’s “Your Morning.”

CTV said Moore reported that “police escorted people from their homes” after announcing a suspect was in custody.

New Brunswick is one of Canada’s eastern Maritime provinces. Its premier, Brian Gallant, said in a statement that “we are all shocked and saddened to learn this morning of the ongoing tragic incident.”

“I offer my condolences, thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families. During this difficult time, our thoughts are also with the courageous women and men on the front lines working to keep us safe,” he said.

“At this time, I would ask New Brunswickers, particularly those in areas identified by police, to keep informed about the situation as it develops and follow the instructions of law enforcement officials working in the area.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted, “We’re following the situation closely.”

“Awful news coming out of Fredericton. My heart goes out to everyone affected by this morning’s shooting.”

Four years ago, three officers died and two others were wounded in a shooting in the New Brunswick city of Moncton.

Growing gun violence in recent years has been an issue in Toronto, Canada’s most populous city.

A shooting rampage last month in that city left two people dead.

Days afterward the Toronto City Council voted to push the Canadian government to ban the sale of handguns and also for the provincial government to ban handgun ammunition sales within the city.

436 sick, 20 hospitalized due to parasitic illness linked to McDonald’s salads

The CDC now says 436 people have been diagnosed with a laboratory-confirmed intestinal illness linked to salads sold at McDonald’s.

The cyclospora infection is part of an ongoing outbreak that began in May.

Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a statement confirming 395 illnesses. That number increased to 436 this week.

At least 20 people have been hospitalized; no deaths have been reported.

The cyclospora parasite causes intestinal illness in people who consumed contaminated food or water. Symptoms can begin a week or more after consuming the parasite. They include diarrhea and frequent, sometimes explosive bowel movements, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those who are infected might also experience loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps or pain, nausea, gas, and fatigue. Vomiting, headache, fever, body aches and flu-like symptoms can also occur.

The illness can last a few days to a few months, and patients might feel better but then get worse again. Cyclosporiasis can be treated with antibiotics.

Illnesses have been reported in 15 states: Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. However, the patients in Connecticut, Michigan, Tennessee, and Virginia bought their salads in Illinois while traveling, and the Florida patient bought the salad in Kentucky.

The FDA said an unused package of a Fresh Express salad mix of romaine lettuce and carrots that had been distributed to McDonald’s tested positive for the presence of Cyclospora though it was past its July 19 expiration date.

“Epidemiologic evidence indicates that salads purchased from McDonald’s restaurants are one likely source of these infections. The investigation is ongoing, and FDA is working to determine the sources of the ingredients that were in common to the salads served at McDonald’s,” the CDC said in an outbreak update posted on its website Thursday.

McDonald’s said in a statement on July 13 that it had removed the salad mix from it’s impacted restaurants and replaced it with a different supplier.

In a recall statement on the Fresh Express website, the company said it had launched a “precautionary recall” of the institutional food service product on July 27 of a “limited number of cases.”

The statement said, “Fresh Express follows rigid food safety requirements and preventive controls throughout our supply chain that are carefully designed to mitigate against potential health risks.”

The company’s salad mix recall was connected with a public health alert issued on July 30 by the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service advising consumers that certain salad and wrap products might be contaminated with cyclospora. The products were sold by grocery stores including Kroger, Trader Joe’s and Walgreens.

In the alert, the USDA said the issue was discovered when Indianapolis-based food distributor Caito Foods “received notification from their lettuce supplier, Fresh Express, that the chopped romaine that is used to manufacture some of their salads and wraps was being recalled.”

The lettuce from McDonald’s that tested positive for the cyclospora parasite was in the same lot as the lettuce distributed to Caito Foods, the CDC said Wednesday. “Fresh Express also reported that no romaine lettuce from the lot that was positive for cyclospora was packaged for direct retail sale to consumers,” the CDC said.

Deputies involved in Mercer County shooting cleared

MERCER COUNTY, Illinois - An external investigation has found that the officer who fired his gun and struck a suspect near Viola, Illinois was acting in self-defense.

At a press conference on Friday, August 10, Mercer County State's Attorney Meeghan Lee said that Deputy Franklin Wade of the Mercer County Sheriff's Department was undercover with Deputy Rodney Taylor while investigating the illegal sale of firearms in Mercer County on the night of June 12.

According to the findings, 29-year-old Alex Cady and 28-year-old Donovan Smith drove up to the parking lot of Midwest Fiber Products in Viola, Illinois.

That's when Smith, who was approaching the undercover officers, got out of his car and began to draw a gun.

Officer Franklin acted quickly and shot Smith.

Smith suffered non-life threatening injuries.

Smith was treated at a hospital and then taken into custody. Cady was also taken into custody.

Both men face charges for illegal gun and drug possession.

The officers were placed on administrative leave while an external investigation was done by a task force made up of 6 entities, including Mercer County, Henry County and the Illinois State Police among others.

The goal of the task force is to provide an objective investigation into what happened when the officer fired his gun.

Ultimately, it was determined that the officer's shooting was justified because he was acting in self-defense.

Both officers have been allowed to return to work.

Smith had been charged with Class X felony of armed violence stemming from a drugs and weapons investigation in the Viola area and also with several drug charges.

According to online court records, Smith was facing federal charges of unlawful transport of firearms.

Cady was facing two counts of Felon in Possession of a Firearm, Armed Violence, and Possession of a Stolen Firearm.

Smith is also now part of a larger federal investigation. Mercer County officials were unable to provide further details on that investigation at the time of a press conference on August 10.

Parents, GMQC crew, give out high fives on first day of school

SILVIS- George O. Barr Elementary had volunteers encourage students on their first day of school Friday, August 10.

English Language Aide Donna Thurman asked volunteers to give out high fives to students Friday, calling on Meteorologist Eric Sorensen to help out, and because Thurman asked, Angie and I decided to come out as well.

Thurman had signs designed for us and the other volunteers Friday. Pending snow days, the last day of school for kids in the Silvis School District are Thursday, May 24, 2019.

Kids won’t sleep? Disney hotline offers bedtime calls from Mickey

Having trouble getting your kids to sleep? Maybe Mickey Mouse can help!

Disney store recently launched a new service that will help parents get their children in bed. The company teamed up with pediatric sleep coach Lauren Olson and unveiled a hotline service.

When parents call 1-877-7-MICKEY, Mickey Mouse joyfully answers the call. Mickey will tell your little ones in a playful voice that it’s time to hit the hay.

You can also choose to have Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, or Goofy talk to your children.

Parents should take advantage of the service quickly as it’s only set to run until August 31.

Davenport woman pours rubbing alcohol on disabled baby, Facebook-Lives it

DAVENPORT, Iowa – A woman was arrested after posting a Facebook Live video of her pouring rubbing alcohol on her two-year-old baby on August 9.

Darshanda McNeal, 29, is facing child endangerment charges after she live-streamed the act to Facebook. Police responded to her residence at 3531 W 43 St. #70 after reports of the video. Police say she said she wanted to kill her baby in the video.

Neither her profile page nor the video were found.

Police say when McNeil was arrested, she said she didn’t know why she did it. Later, she told police she did it “for fun.”

McNeil was taken into custody and put in jail. The baby was transported to the hospital but did not have any physical injuries.

‘Leave immediately’: US Navy plane warned over South China Sea

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(CNN) — High above one of the most hotly contested regions in the world, CNN was given a rare look Friday at the Chinese government’s rapidly expanding militarization of the South China Sea

Aboard a US Navy P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance plane, CNN got a view from 16,500 feet of low-lying coral reefs turned into garrisons with five-story buildings, large radar installations, power plants and runways sturdy enough to carry large military aircraft.

During the flight the crew received six separate warnings from the Chinese military, telling them they were inside Chinese territory and urging them to leave.

“Leave immediately and keep out to avoid any misunderstanding,” a voice said.

The US Navy jet flew past four key artificial islands in the Spratly chain where China has built up fortifications: Subi Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Johnson Reef and Mischief Reef.

On Subi Reef, the Poseidon’s sensors picked up 86 vessels, including Chinese coast guard ships, moored in a giant lagoon, while on Fiery Cross Reef rows of hangers stood alongside a lengthy runway.

“It was surprising to see airports in the middle of the ocean,” said Lt. Lauren Callen, who was leading the air combat crew aboard the Navy flight.

Each time the aircraft was challenged by Chinese military, the US Navy crew’s response was the same.

“I am a sovereign immune United States naval aircraft conducting lawful military activities beyond the national airspace of any coastal state,” the response said.

“In exercising these rights guaranteed by international law, I am operating with due regard for the rights and duties of all states.”

CNN has reached out to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.

Competing claims

The Chinese government staunchly maintains large areas of the South China Sea have been part of the country’s territory “since ancient times.”

Beijing’s “nine-dash line” extends more than one thousand kilometers from its southernmost province, taking in more or less the entirety of the waters, through which the United Nations estimates one-third of global shipping passes.

The South China Sea is also believed to contain rich oil and natural gas reserves that have yet to be fully explored.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei all claim overlapping portions of the sea which spans 3.6 million square kilometer (1.4 million square miles), but the most far-reaching claims have been made by China.

Beijing’s sovereignty claims are considered by most other countries as unsubstantiated, a view backed by an international tribunal in 2016.

Despite this however, little has changed in China’s approach to the region in recent years.

To reinforce its claims of sovereignty, Beijing has been reclaiming land on and around reefs and shoals to construct artificial islands which are then militarized with airfields and radar equipment.

China has spent much of the past two years fortifying these islands, including placing missiles on the Spratly island chain during naval exercises in April.

This is despite a promise made by President Xi Jinping to then-US President Barack Obama in 2015 that the Chinese government would not be militarizing the artificial islands.

Rapid expansion

The last time CNN was given access to a US Navy mission over the South China Sea was in September 2015, when the aircraft was also warned off by Chinese military.

Since then, Beijing’s island building in the contested waters has moved forward at a rapid pace.

Flying over Fiery Cross Reef on Friday, a five-story building was visible, as well as a large radar installation, which looked like neatly arranged golf balls on the Navy plane’s infrared camera.

Though no Chinese missiles were seen on Friday’s flight over the South China Sea, Navy officers said some of the structures seen could potentially be used to house them.

Cmdr. Chris Purcell, who leads Patrol Squadron Four which undertook Friday’s mission, said the US has been doing these flights for five decades and they show US commitment to maintaining free passage in international waters.

“The reason we’re here hasn’t changed,” Purcell said. “The reason (the Chinese) are here has changed.”

Within hours of the trip, Chinese state tabloid Global Times posted a reaction to CNN’s report on its Chinese-language website. The article called for all readers to “give a thumbs-up to Chinese servicemen”for their defense of China’s territory.

China claims US sparking militarization

Beijing says its growing military presence in the South China Sea is necessary to protect its sovereignty, blaming Washington and its allies for tensions in the region.

Chinese military exercises in April included the largest naval parade in the country’s history, with President Xi Jinping overseeing drills that included 10,000 troops, 48 naval vessels and 76 fighter jets.

Beijing points to the regular US Navy patrols and flyovers of the South China Sea as an example of US militarization and provocations, and a justification for the increased Chinese military presence.

“By playing up the so-called China’s militarization in the South China Sea, certain people in the US are staging a farce of a thief crying “stop thief”,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in May. “It is self-evident to a keener eye that who is militarizing the South China Sea.”

In the past year, the US has stepped up freedom of navigation operations in the region, sailing US naval vessels within miles of China’s artificial islands across the South China Sea.

The exercises, which the US also conducts in other parts of the world, assert the navy’s right to travel wherever it pleases in international waters, a vital component of Washington’s naval power across the world.

Time may be running out to effectively challenge China’s claims in the South China Sea however.

Adm. Philip Davidson, the recently installed head of the US Pacific Command, told Senators during a confirmation hearing in April that China is already very firmly entrenched.

“China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States,” Davidson said.

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