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B-52 bomber flew over America carrying nuclear weapons 'by accident'

US bomber flew over America with nuclear bombs by mistake

A B-52 bomber was mistakenly loaded with five nuclear warheads during a flight from North Dakota to Louisiana, a newspaper reported today.

The bomber carried advanced cruise missiles as part of a Defence Department program to retire 400 of the missiles, the Military Times said, quoting three officers who spoke on condition they remain anonymous because they were not authorised to discuss the incident.

The officers said the nuclear warheads should have been removed before the missiles were mounted onto pylons under the bomber's wings for the August 30 flight from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, the newspaper said.

That meant the nuclear warheads were unaccounted for during the 3 1/2 hour flight.

A Minot Air Force Base spokeswoman, Sergeant Marelise Wood, referred questions to the Air Force secretary's office in Washington. A spokesman there was out of the office this morning and not immediately available for comment.

An Air Force spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Ed Thomas, told the Military Times that the weapons were in Air Force control at all times and the missiles were safely transferred.

Air Force policy does not permit officials to say whether nuclear warheads were involved, Thomas said. However, he said all nuclear weapons at Minot were accounted for.

"Air Force standards are very exacting when it comes to munitions handling," Thomas said. "The weapons were always in our custody and there was never a danger to the American public."

He said an investigation was launched and the crews involved in loading the missiles were decertified pending corrective action or training.

At no time was there a risk for a nuclear detonation, even if the B-52 crashed on its way to Barksdale, Steve Fetter, a former Defence Department official who worked on nuclear weapons policy in 1993-94 told the paper.

A crash could ignite the high explosives associated with the warhead, and possibly cause a leak of the plutonium, but the warheads' elaborate safeguards would prevent a nuclear detonation from occurring, he said.

"The main risk would have been the way the Air Force responded to any problems with the flight because they would have handled it much differently if they would have known nuclear warheads were onboard," he said.

The risk of the warheads falling into the hands of rogue nations or terrorists was minimal since the weapons never left the United States, according to Fetter and Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, an independent research and policy think tank in Washington, DC.

The W80-1 warhead has a yield of five to 150 kilotons, the paper said.

A military official told AFP news agency that President George W Bush had been informed of the mix-up.


Daily Mail, "US bomber flew over America with nuclear bombs by mistake", 6 September 2001.

"The Insider" mailing list article, 07 September 2007.

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Tags: America, nuclear, bombs, B-52, carrying, cruise, missiles, B52, bomber, accident, mistake, , conspiracy theories.

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