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Nuclear Bombs Mistakenly Flown Over US

Published:

Nuclear Bombs Mistakenly Flown Over US

Published: 9/5/07, 9:25 PM EDT
By PAULINE JELINEK
     

WASHINGTON (AP) - A B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with six nuclear warheads and flown for more than three hours across several states last week, prompting an Air Force investigation and the firing of one commander, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

The mistake was so serious that President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were quickly informed and Gates has asked for daily briefings on the Air Force inquiry, said Defense Department press secretary Geoff Morrell.

He said Gates was assured that "the munitions were part of a routine transfer between the two bases and at all times they were in the custody and control of Air Force personnel and at no time was the public in danger."

Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called the mishandling of the weapons "deeply disturbing" and said the committee would press the military for details. Rep. Edward J. Markey, a senior member of the Homeland Security Committee, said it was "absolutely inexcusable."

"Nothing like this has ever been reported before and we have been assured for decades that it was impossible," said Markey, D-Mass., co-chair of the House task force on nonproliferation.

The plane was carrying advanced cruise missiles from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., on Aug. 30, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a Defense Department policy not to confirm information on nuclear weapons.

The missiles, which are being decommissioned, were mounted onto pylons on the bomber's wings and it is unclear why the warheads had not been removed beforehand.

According to the officials, the weapons are designed with multiple safety features that ensure the warheads don't accidentally detonate.

Arming the weapons requires a number of stringent protocols and authentication codes that must be followed for detonation. And they are designed to withstand a significant impact, including an aircraft crash, without detonating.

The Air Combat Command has ordered a command-wide stand down on Sept. 14 to review procedures, officials said. They said there was minimal risk to crews and the public because of safety features designed into the munitions.

In addition to the munitions squadron commander who was relieved of his duties, crews involved with the mistaken load - including ground crew workers - have been temporarily decertified for handling munitions, one official said.

The investigation is expected to take several weeks.

The incident was first reported by Military Times newspaper group.

"There is no more serious issue than the security and proper handling of nuclear weapons," Skelton said in a statement Wednesday. "The American people, our friends, and our potential adversaries must be confident that the highest standards are in place when it comes to our nuclear arsenal."

Skelton, D-Mo., said his committee will pursue answers on the classified matter "to ensure that the Air Force and the Department of Defense address this particular incident and strengthen controls more generally."



     Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Entry #97

Comments

1.
truecriticComment by truecritic - September 5, 2007, 11:07 pm
The only thing that surprised me when I heard about this, is the fact that I learned they don't do this ALL the time.
2.
TenajComment by Tenaj - September 5, 2007, 11:30 pm
When I saw the headline I thought somebody had invaded our space. We don't need Korea to stop making bombs, we'll capable of blowing our ownselves up.
3.
justxploringComment by justxploring - September 6, 2007, 12:41 am
"According to the officials, the weapons are designed with multiple safety features that ensure the warheads don't accidentally detonate."

I know I'll sleep better after reading this statement!

4.
JADELotteryComment by JADELottery - September 6, 2007, 2:00 pm
Watch-out, folks!!
Test run for (9-11 version 2).
New and Improved with Nukes.
Packed full of wholesome Radiation for the whole family to fear and enjoy.
We didn't get it right the first time, but by golly, we will this time.
After all, what's more Patriotic than dying for your Country?
That's Right! Dying in a Terrorist Attack On Your Country!
Yes, React now and get this beautifully hand crafted American Flag made in China.
Stick in on your house, in the lawn, on the wall, on your desk at work or even where the sun don't shine.
That's ok, because we can make it shine day or night with our very own second sun in the sky.
Guaranteed to light up your life for a millisecond or two.
Now, back to the President and the State of Emergency... ...already in progress.
5.
JAP69Comment by JAP69 - September 6, 2007, 7:20 pm
Rest easy folks.
I slept with no worries about it.
I was in a nuclear division in the military. The safeguards for handling nuclear materials is very stringent.
I think this was a bit overplayed by the news media as they have no idea what they are talking about.
6.
Comment by DoubleDown - September 7, 2007, 1:14 pm
I agree with true critic. No big deal .

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