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US Defense Officials: B-52 Bomber Mistakenly Flew With Nuclear Warheads


The U.S. military has confirmed a B-52 bomber mistakenly loaded with nuclear warheads flew from the midwestern U.S. state of North Dakota to the southern state of Louisiana last week. VOA's Cindy Saine reports from Washington on the incident, which has triggered an Air Force investigation.

The B-52 bomber carried advanced cruise missiles as part of the Pentagons's program to decommission hundreds of the missiles. The nuclear warheads on those missiles should have been removed at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. But instead, they were mounted onto the bombers' wings. The mistake was not discovered until the B-52 landed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, leaving the warheads unaccounted for during the three-hour flight.

Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said it is Defense Department policy not to comment on nuclear weapons. But he acknowledged that the Air Force is investigating an "error" made last Thursday in the transfer of munitions. He said the incident was so serious that President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were quickly informed, and that Gates has asked for daily briefings on the Air Force probe.

Morrell also sought to reassure the public. "At no time was the public in danger," he said.

Defense experts say there was no risk of a nuclear detonation, even if the plane had crashed, because of safety features built into the warheads.

But several Democratic lawmakers expressed concern. Democratic Representative Edward Markey, a member of the Homeland Security Committee, said it was "absolutely inexcusable." Representative Ike Skelton, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called the incident "deeply disturbing" and said the committee will press the military for details.

An Air Force investigation into the incident is expected to take several weeks.

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