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Air Force suspends Monday's combat training flights

September 20, 1997
Web posted at: 12:12 p.m. EDT (1612 GMT)

ALZADA, Montana (CNN) -- Hours after the sixth military plane in a week crashed, the U.S. Air Force ordered that a one-day suspension of its combat training flights take place Monday, four days earlier than planned.

An Air Force B-1B bomber went down in Montana Friday afternoon, killing all four crew members. The crash 25 miles (40 km) north of Alzada started a grass fire and left a trench up to a half-mile long in the prairie.

B A C K G R O U N D:
Seven Americans have died and nine more are feared dead from six military plane crashes in the last week. Despite the rash of incidents, the military has lost fewer aircraft in 1997 than in any recent year. The latest crash -- of an Air Force B-1B bomber -- was Friday.

CNN's Jamie McIntyre reports on Friday's crash
icon 2 min. VXtreme video

A L S O :
The most recent U.S. military crashes

Almost immediately afterward, the Air Force ordered that next Friday's suspension of training flights be moved up. Monday's stand down affects only combat planes. Transport and cargo planes will suspend flights Friday, as previously scheduled.

The Air Force also canceled scheduled appearances of B-1 bombers in weekend air shows.

Seven Americans have died in U.S. military crashes around the world since September 13, and nine more are feared dead. Four of the crashes have involved Air Force or Air National Guard planes.

"We need to determine why these incidents happened and how to prevent more mishaps," said Gen. Richard Hawley, head of the Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia.

Earlier in the week, Defense Secretary William Cohen ordered all military services to ground their training flights for 24 hours. The stand downs were to begin next Friday, and were to be staggered so officials could evaluate the crashes and review safety procedures.

The Navy, Marine Corps and Army have given local commanders the discretion to determine when they will halt their training flights next week.

The order does not affect ongoing military operations, such as patrolling no-fly zones in Bosnia and Iraq.

Cause of latest crash unclear

The bomber from the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, about 100 miles (160 km) southeast of the crash site, was on a training mission over the Powder River Military Operating Area. An Ellsworth spokesman said there were no bombs on board.

An antelope hunter about a half-mile from the crash site said the plane was flying low with no indication of trouble before it went down at 2:25 p.m.

"It came around us and went behind the ridge, and then we saw smoke and never saw it come back out," said Brian Parker of Alzada.

Killed in the crash were Col. Anthony Beat, the pilot; Maj. Clay Culver, assistant operations officer; Maj. Kirk Cakerice, the copilot; and Capt. Gary Everett, a weapons systems officer.

The last time a B-1 crashed was in 1992, when a bomber went down near Abilene, Texas, killing four crew members.

The B-1B Lancer, the type flown by Ellsworth's 28th Bomb Wing, is a long-range, heavy bomber that entered Air Force service in 1985. It can carry up to 84 conventional 500-pound bombs, or an undisclosed number of nuclear weapons, and fly faster than 900 mph. It costs more than $200 million.

Despite this week's rash of accidents, the U.S. military has lost fewer aircraft in crashes this year than in any recent year -- 55, with less than two weeks remaining in the government's fiscal year. It lost 67 last year, 69 in 1995 and 86 in 1994, according to Pentagon statistics.

President Clinton said in a statement Friday he "continues to have the highest confidence in the United States Air Force and all of our military services."


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