Europe fired up over launch

of their space lab tomorrow

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - With ideal weather expected for tomorrow's shuttle launch, European space officials grew increasingly exhilarated as each passing trouble-free hour brought their long-delayed science lab closer to liftoff.

The laboratory, Columbus, was packed aboard space shuttle Atlantis. As NASA breezed through its countdown yesterday, the lab and shuttle were declared ready to fly to the international space station following a high-level review by managers.

"It's very difficult for a Brit to say that he's excited," said Alan Thirkettle, the European Space Agency's station program manager. "But we are very, very excited.

Columbus - in the works for a quarter-century - is a 23-foot-long, high-tech laboratory worth $2 billion that was built in Europe and will be controlled from there once it is attached to the space station.

L.A. cardinal: I was assaulted

by man angry about sex abuse

LOS ANGELES - Cardinal Roger Mahony, the leader of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, told fellow priests that he was assaulted last summer by a man who yelled angry statements about the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests.

Mahony first spoke about the attack at an annual gathering of local priests in October, according to priests who attended the meeting. The cardinal described being approached last July by an unidentified man outside Our Lady of Angels Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, according to Father Michael Gutierrez, who was at the meeting.

"He went down there to drop something off at the mailbox when this guy approached him, saying some stuff," said Gutierrez, pastor of St. Anne Catholic Church in Santa Monica. "Then boom, the guy was on him."

The attack, according to Gutierrez and others, occurred days after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge approved a $660 million settlement between the archdiocese and more than 500 local victims of clergy abuse. The settlement is the largest of its kind in the country.

No report about the assault was filed with the Los Angeles Police Department. "We don't know if the assault did or did not happen," said the spokesman, Sgt. Lee Sands.

Proposal 'not enough' to end

2-month strike by nurses

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Nurses who have been on strike for more than two months in Kentucky and West Virginia soundly rejected a contract offer yesterday that a union negotiator says was "not enough."

The Kentucky/West Virginia Nurses Association said 455 of the nurses who have been striking Appalachian Regional Healthcare voted against the proposal, while only five voted to accept it.

The hospital system had set a Tuesday deadline for the nurses to make a decision but gave no assurances that striking workers would get their jobs back.

Since the strike began Oct. 1, about 175 nurses have crossed the picket line and about 150 replacement workers have been hired. The nurses have said key issues in the contract talks include staffing levels and scheduling.

On snowy flight to Anchorage,

medical helicopter disappears

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Volunteers joined a Coast Guard search yesterday for a medical helicopter that vanished in snow and heavy wind while carrying a patient and medical crew over mountainous coastal terrain.

A Coast Guard cutter was searching for the LifeGuard Alaska helicopter, listening for signals from the helicopter's emergency beacon near its last known position over the southeast side of Esther Island in Prince William Sound, about 75 miles southeast of Anchorage. Volunteers directed by Alaska State Troopers joined the search in three fishing boats.

The helicopter was heading about 150 miles from Cordova to the Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage when it disappeared early Monday evening, authorities said.

A patient, pilot, paramedic and nurse were aboard the Eurocopter BK 117. Their names and the reason for the flight were not released.

Informant says cops want him

to take the fall for botched raid

ATLANTA - A man who made his living as a confidential informant sued the city and police department Tuesday, claiming he lost his job after a botched drug raid in which officers killed a 92-year-old woman.

Alex White claims police held him against his will for hours in hopes he would help them cover up their mistakes in the death of Kathryn Johnston, a scandal that continues to reverberate within the police department. *

- Daily News wire services