Debris is scattered across at field after a B-1B bomber crashed Aug. 19 in a remote area near Broadus, Mont. The four crew members survived after ejecting from the aircraft. (Bill Stuver / Power River Examiner via The AP)
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RAPID CITY, S.D. — The crash of a B-1 bomber last August during a training exercise over southeastern Montana was an anomaly and not indicative of a bigger problem in the 30-year-old bomber fleet, an Ellsworth Air Force Base leader says.
A report released earlier this week by the Air Combat Command Accident Investigation Board concluded that the crash was caused by a mechanical malfunction that started a fuel leak. About 7,000 pounds of fuel leaked into the aircraft and was ignited by hot ductwork, leading to a series of detonations in the plane based at Ellsworth in southwestern South Dakota.
People on the ground who witnessed the incident said the plane broke apart in midair, scattering debris over several miles of ranchland. The four crew members safely ejected and escaped serious injury. No one on the ground was hurt.
“The investigation did not attribute the mechanical failure to the age of the aircraft but to the failure of a specific part,” Col. Gentry Boswell, vice commander of the 28th Bomb Wing, said in a statement responding to the report. “The B-1 has a proven track record with more than 30 years of successful service across the globe.”
Mark Gunzinger, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that focuses on defense policy, said he also believes the faulty part was not linked to the plane’s age.
“Sometimes things break,” he told the Rapid City Journal.
Boeing spokeswoman Jennifer Hogan said in a statement that the crash has not changed the company’s assessment that the B-1B, developed by Boeing in the 1980s, will remain viable for at least another quarter century.