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U.S. Air Force grounds F-117 fleet after accident

smoke September 15, 1997
Web posted at: 11:55 a.m. EDT (1555 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Air Force on Monday grounded its fleet of 53 F-117 stealth fighters in the wake of Sunday's crash during an air show near a marina in Middle River, Maryland.

An Air Force spokesman said the order was a precautionary measure that would give the Air Force and the plane's manufacturer time to make sure the single-seat jet was safe to fly.


The grounding was expected to last at least for one day.

No one, including the pilot, was seriously hurt when the $45 million plane crashed about a quarter mile away from Maryland's Glen Martin State airport. Two houses were set ablaze and six people were slightly wounded.

Amateur video showed a piece of the aircraft, apparently from the tail or a wing, flying off before the wedge-shaped jet went into a slow spin and crashed a mile from 12,000 viewers at the Chesapeake Air Show.

Amateur video of accident from the nearby lake
video icon 1.2MB/24 sec. QuickTime movie
Amateur video of accident from the airfield
video icon 1.4MB/29 sec. QuickTime movie

Pilot Maj. Bryan Knight, who ejected at the last moment, was treated at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland for minor back and neck injuries. Knight is an instructor pilot with more than 2,770 flying hours, including 500 in the F-117A.

On Monday, about 150 police, fire and military officials searched for debris and clues of the crash. The Coast Guard was also searching for debris in a creek near the airport.

Maryland Air National Guard Capt. Drew Sullins praises the pilot's performance:
icon 128K/12 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

The Air Force was waiting for analysis of the flight data recorder, which was found soon after the crash.

The F-117 made its name in the Gulf War, where its pioneering radar-evading design allowed it to strike heavily defended targets in Baghdad. No F-117s were lost in the Gulf War but five others did crash before, most of them at a time when the plane was still super-secret.

Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.


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