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Search for four missing airmen continues after B-52 crash off Guam

By Teri Weaver, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Updated Tuesday, July 22, at 6 a.m. EDT

TOKYO – As military and local rescue units in Guam continued a search Tuesday evening for four missing airmen from the previous day’s B-52 crash, the mood turned more somber.

“Although we continue to hold out hope, we’ve had no encouraging indicators that our airmen survived this crash,” Brig. Gen. Douglas Owens, the commander of the 36th Wing at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, said in a release.

The bodies of two members of the six-person crew were recovered Monday after the morning crash at sea. Military officials have not identified any of the six pending family notifications.

A family member in Ohio identified one of the six airmen as Col. George Martin, a doctor in the medical command at Andersen, according to reports from WBNS 10TV in Columbus.

The five other members are from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., as part of a unit currently deployed to Guam.

On Tuesday afternoon, search crews from the Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Guam’s police and fire departments were working in a 900-mile radius beginning from the crash site, about 25 miles northwest of Guam, according the release. They were searching waters about 1,000 meters deep, according to spokesman Capt. Joel Stark.

The B-52H Stratofortress crashed about 9:45 a.m. Monday, local time, about 45 minutes after it took off from Andersen with no weapons or munitions aboard, according to Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration officials.

The plane was on a training flight that was to include participation in the island’s Liberation Day celebration, according to the Air Force.

Col. Robert Wheeler, commander of Barksdale’s 2nd Bomb Wing, told reporters in Louisiana that the aircraft went down because of a “mishap,” according to multiple media reports.

“We don’t have a lot of facts at this point,” Wheeler said at a news conference, according to the Shreveport Times.

The Air Force has said a board of officers will investigate the crash. The status of the investigation was unknown Tuesday afternoon.

Equipment and personnel involved in the search on Tuesday included two Coast Guard ships, the USS John McCain from Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, Navy helicopters from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25, F-15Es from the 389th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, and a Navy P-3 Orion from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.

The Coast Guard was on the scene within 45 minutes of the crash, according to Owens. Searchers found debris there, according to a Coast Guard spokeswoman. The large search area is, in part, in case any crew members were able to eject before the crash, she said.

“We recognize, however, that the longer this search continues the less likelihood there is that we’ll find survivors,” Owens said in the press release. “Our hearts and prayers go out to all the family members and friends of our missing aircrew as we continue our search and rescue efforts.”

Stark said the search efforts are to continue overnight.

Martin, a military doctor for more than 25 years, was identified by his sister, Clarissa Clark, according to WBNS. He was a graduate of Ohio State University Medical School and a physician for NASA, the television station reported.

It was unclear why he was aboard the plane. The B-52 is normally crewed by a five-person team, according to the Air Force’s Web site.

The B-52, the military’s longest range bomber, was deployed to Andersen from Barksdale, according to an Air Force release. The deployment is part of the Air Force’s rotation that routinely sends fighters and bombers to Guam. There are now eight B-52s at Andersen, Stark said.

Guam’s Liberation Day celebrates July 21, 1944, when U.S. Forces captured the Japanese-held island.