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Air Force grounds C-141 jet fleet

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- The Air Force temporarily grounded its fleet of C-141s to determine why the wing of a C-141 Starlifter collapsed during refueling for a trip to Germany.

Military engineers from Warner Robins Air Logistics Center near Macon, Georgia, were in Memphis, Tennessee, on Sunday to investigate the incident, which happened Friday night at Memphis International Airport.

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The damaged wing of the Air National Guard aircraft spilled about 9,000 gallons of jet fuel onto the tarmac at the National Guard facility located on the grounds of the airport.

"We're trying to ascertain whether it's just a single airplane problem or if it's a fleetwide problem," said Col. Fred Smith, vice commander of the 164th Airlift Wing of the Tennessee Air National Guard.

The Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois ordered the "stand down," which affects 99 C-141s in the worldwide Air Force fleet.

"The C-141 is and has been an extremely reliable aircraft during its tenure with the Air Force," said Lt. Col. Tom LaRock, spokesman for the Air Mobility Command.

The C-141, a 1961 model, was headed to Ramstein Air Base in Germany to replace one of four C-141s that fly supply missions for military bases and the Navy in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and elsewhere as part of the European Strategic Intertheater Deployment, Smith said.

The plane also is used in medical evacuations, and was used to bring the body of CIA officer Johnny "Mike" Spann, the sole American to die in combat in Afghanistan, back to the United States, Smith said.

Its temporary grounding "will have a fairly significant impact," Smith said.

The C-141 is not used in Afghanistan, where larger, more modern C-17s are used for cargo missions, he said.

Crews were able to contain the spill before fuel reached Nonconnah Creek, Smith said. The C-141 was holding 120,000 gallons of fuel when the wing collapsed, and some of the fuel still was being drained on Sunday.

An airman who slipped in some of the fuel suffered a broken leg, and another strained his shoulder, Smith said. Another got fuel in his eye, but was able to flush it out, and required no medical treatment.

Of the 99 C-141s, 63 are used by the Air National Guard and Air Force reserves; the rest are on active duty at McCord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Wash., and McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, Smith said.

The Lockheed-built C-141 Starlifter fleet entered service with the Air Force transport in 1964 and has since logged 10.5 million flying hours.

"It is obviously one of the older planes in our fleet and the Air Force is in the process of retiring the plane and replacing it with the larger C-17," LaRock said.

The Air Force plans to retire the planes by 2006.

-- CNN Washington Producer Mike Mount contributed to this story.



 
 
 
 



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