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Air Force has no idea why B-1 bomber crashed

B-1 bomber September 20, 1997
Web posted at: 8:06 p.m. EDT (0006 GMT)

RAPID CITY, South Dakota (CNN) -- A U.S. Air Force official said that investigators still have no idea what caused a B-1 bomber to slam into the Montana prairie Friday afternoon, killing all four crew members on board.

At a briefing Saturday at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, where the B-1 was based, Col. Will Fraser said the plane had been on an earlier training run Friday with a different crew, with no problems reported.

The pilot was an experienced B-1 instructor with more than 4,800 hours of flying time. At the time of the crash, the weather was clear.

"They were scheduled for just a routine training mission that was to last approximately two hours," Fraser said. "We do not know what caused this tragedy." He said no in-flight emergency had been declared.

Crew members killed were Col. Anthony Beat, the pilot, Maj. Clay Culver, Maj. Kirk Cakerice and Capt. Gary Everett.

16 die in military crashes in past week

The crash in Montana was the sixth crash of a U.S. military aircraft in a week. In those crashes, 16 service members have died.

In response to the unusual string of accidents, the Pentagon announced that all air military training missions will be halted for a 24-hour stand down next Friday to review safety procedures. The only exception is the Air Force's Air Combat Command, which will observe the stand down on Monday.

On Saturday, the Navy went ahead as scheduled with the Neptune Festival Air Show in Virginia, one of the largest air shows on the East Coast.

The show went off without incident. At the last minute, the Air Force decided to fly a B-2 Stealth bomber in the show, despite saying earlier that the plane would only be on display and not fly.

Witness: Plane seemed slow

The B-1 from Ellsworth was practicing low-altitude bombing runs Friday. At the time of the crash, it was flying over a remote corner of southeastern Montana, near the Wyoming border.

A witness to the crash, rancher Jim Watts, said the plane came low over the prairies. Watts, who says he has seen military planes on training runs before, said the B-1 seemed to be flying unusually slow before it crashed and exploded.

The bomber hit the ground with such force that the debris, mostly small pieces, was scattered over an area a mile long and a half-mile wide.

"Looking at the pieces, you couldn't recognize they were parts of a plane," said Sandy Thomas, whose ranch borders the crash site.

Fraser said that due to the extent of the damage, it may take some time to piece the plane together to find out what happened.

Correspondent Kathleen Koch contributed to this report.


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