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Missile truck tips in latest Air Force mishap

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  • Truck carrying unarmed missile booster tipped in North Dakota
  • Incident is latest in a string of mishaps for Air Force
  • Two Air Force officials were fired this year for "pattern of poor performance"
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(CNN) -- A truck carrying an unarmed missile booster tipped over in North Dakota on Thursday, the latest in a two-year string of Air Force mishaps.

Thursday's accident was at least the second public mistake since the force's top leaders were fired in June for a "pattern of poor performance" involving the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The vehicle, which was carrying a Minuteman III rocket booster, tipped on its side on a gravel road about 70 miles southwest of Minot Air Force Base. The crew received only minor injuries.

Last week, the Air Force announced that three officers fell asleep July 12 while in control of a classified electronic part that contained old launch codes for intercontinental nuclear missiles. It happened during the changing out of electronic parts used to communicate with Minot Air Force Base.

The two incidents came after a high-profile error last August, when a B-52 bomber flew from Minot to Louisiana with the crew unaware that six nuclear-tipped missiles were onboard, and a 2006 accidental shipment to Taiwan of components that arm and fuse nuclear warheads.

An investigation prompted by those incidents led to the firing of Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley.

A report on the investigation said it had uncovered that Air Force brass had not acted to improve security after past mishaps and Air Force personnel handling nuclear weapons consistently failed to follow rules.

Air Force leaders "not only fell short in terms of specific acts, they failed to recognize systemic problems, to address those problems or, when beyond their authority to act, to call the attention of superiors to those problems," Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said at the time.

Gates announced the creation of a review committee, headed by former Defense and Energy Secretary James Schlesinger, to further look into the military's handling of nuclear weapons and said he'd be cracking down on mistakes.

Thursday's accident happened about 8:20 a.m. CT. The transport was en route to a missile launch facility in the area.

The truck is designed to carry the 66 foot-long, 75,000-pound rocket slowly during a during a delicate ride that involves two trucks and a crew of safety officers and spotters to ensure that the multimillion-dollar rocket is safe during transport.

A written release from the Air Force said that the cause of the accident is being investigated and that there is no potential danger to the public.

Maj. Gen. Roger Burg, commander of the 20th Air Force, whose responsibilities include the nation's intercontinental ballistic missile force, flew to Minot to inspect the damage and said an investigation is ongoing.

"I don't believe in luck, good or bad," he said. "Every time something like this happens, we investigate to see if something could be done to prevent it, whether procedures need to be modified, and we will do that in this case."

Burg said that it's too early to determine how much damage was done to the missile but that the Air Force is approaching the accident as a "Class-A mishap," military-speak for an accident causing $1 million or more in damage.

Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre and Pentagon producer Mike Mount contributed to this report.

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