Monday, July 21, 2008

Buff Down

A B-52H, on the ramp at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana (AP photo)

Rescue teams are searching the waters off Guam for the crew of a B-52 bomber, which crashed near the island on Monday.

Officials said that aircraft, helicopters and search vessels were combing a 70-square mile area near the island. A Coast Guard spokesman said rescuers were concentrating on an area with a large oil slick and floating debris, believed to be the crash site.

Coast Guard Lieutenant Elizabeth Buendia said that two members of the six-man bomber crew had been pulled from the water, but their condition was not immediately available.

The eight-engine B-52 crashed around 9:45 Monday morning (Guam time), about 30 miles northwest of Apra Harbor. Officials said the bomber was scheduled to fly over the harbor, located on Guam’s western coast, as part of a local military parade. The annual event marks the island’s liberation from Japanese occupation during World War II.

Details of the crash remain sketchy, but prospects for crew survival appear rather bleak. Assuming a cruising speed of 300-350 knots, the B-52 was only five or six minutes away from the harbor, and probably at low-level for fly-by (around 1,000 feet). At that height, flying over the open ocean, it becomes more difficult to ascertain your altitude from visual cues; there’s less time to correct a pilot error, respond to in-flight emergency, or eject from the aircraft.

An Air Force representative said the B-52 was based at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. However, the spokesman did not say whether the bomber was assigned to Barksdale’s active duty 2nd Bomb Wing, or its “Reserve Associate” unit, the 917th Wing.

The 2nd BW is one of the Air Force’s oldest B-52 units, while the 917th operates both B-52s and A-10s. Buff crews from the 2nd and the 917th routinely train and fly together. There was no word on whether the B-52 that went down was manned by an active duty, reserve, or “mixed crew.”

Officials said the B-52 was deployed to Guam in support of the Defense Department’s continuous bomber presence mission in the Pacific. As a part of that program, B-52, B-1 and B-2 bomber units routinely deploy to (and operate from) Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base.

A Pentagon spokesman said the bomber was unarmed at the time it went down.

Prayers for the crew. Here's hoping that some--or all of them--beat the odds.

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