Mass suspensions and relief of duties after US B-52 flew with armed nuclear missiles

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Spoken content icon This article features in a News Brief from Audio Wikinews:
B-52 with the 2nd Bomb Wing.

According to Pentagon officials, nearly 70 United States Air Force personnel and high ranking officials have been relieved from command and or duty after an incident on August 30 when a U.S. B-52H bomber plane flew from Minot Air Force Base located in North Dakota to Louisiana with six armed AGM-129 ACM nuclear missiles attached to its wings.

Twelve unarmed missiles were supposed to be taken to Barksdale Air Force Base to be taken out of commission. Instead, live missiles were placed on the planes wings, along with six of the "dummy missiles," before it took off from Minot AFB. The air force says that this was a "serious error" on the part of the military, and is launching a formal and ongoing investigation.

So far, the investigation states that the missiles loaded onto the plane were supposed to be inspected by looking through a portal on each missile, where a code would determine whether or not the missile was armed or a dummy. The inspector who loaded the missiles onto the plane only looked under the wing where the armed missiles were located and the plane's navigator also failed to perform a proper inspection.

The numbers on an out-dated piece of paper were also not checked prior to the missiles being loaded on the plane despite the fact that the air force already had a system which is supposed to track the missiles.

Colonel Bruce Emig, commander of the bomb wing at the time of the incident.

"[The incident is an] erosion of adherence to weapons-handling standards. In the countless times our dedicated airmen have transferred weapons in our nation's arsenal, nothing like this has ever occurred. This was an unacceptable error that resulted in an unprecedented string of procedural failures," said Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Major General Richard Newton who also said that the plane's crew did not know that the missiles were on board the plane.

U.S. air force officials state that there was no threat of a nuclear explosion had the plane crashed, but that a radiation leak was possible.

Officials said that they want to make sure they "hold ourselves accountable to the American people and want to ensure proper corrective action has been taken."

At least four colonels and at least one lieutenant were suspended from duty. At least 66 other personnel were also relieved including Colonel Bruce Emig, the commander of the B-52 5th Bomb Wing team and two other members. Officials say that criminal charges have not yet been filed against anyone involved in the incident, but did not rule them out.