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Crew parachutes from B-1B bomber just before crash

All 4 survive after landing in rural Kentucky

crash site
Aerial view of the crash site  

In this story:

MARION, Kentucky (CNN) -- Flying unmanned after its crew ejected safely, an Air Force B-1B bomber plowed into a muddy cow pasture and exploded Wednesday in rural western Kentucky.

The unarmed plane barely missed a farmhouse, crashing about four miles from Marion, a farming community of about 3,300 people near the Ohio River. No one on the ground was hurt, and all four crew members survived.

Two crew members were found walking along a road, where they were picked up by a passerby in a car. A third was found walking in a nearby field. The fourth crew member's parachute caught in a tree, and he suffered head and neck injuries.

The plane, which was on training mission, flew about 12 miles after its crew bailed out. The Air Force identified the crew as Lt. Col. Daniel Charchian, an instructor pilot; Capt. Jeffrey Sabella, the co-pilot; Capt. Kevin Schields, an instructor weapons officer; and 1st Lt. Bert Winslow, a weapons system officer.

'Something went haywire'

Charchian and Schields were in good condition in a military hospital at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the Air Force said. Sabella and Winslow were reported in stable condition at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Randy Rushing, a volunteer firefighter responding to the crash, said he picked up Sabella when he found him in the field. "He mainly said that something went haywire," Rushing said.

Rushing said Sabella told him the crew was aborting the mission to fly back to their base when there was smoke and they lost control of the bomber. He said Sabella told him: "We bailed."

The B-1B "Lancer" bomber was flying out of Dyess Air Force Base near Abilene, Texas, Air Force officials said. Military police from Fort Campbell were securing the crash scene.

Mark Williams, who lives about a quarter mile from the site, said he was picking up his mail when he heard an explosion, looked up and saw a mushroom-shaped cloud. The blast shook his pickup truck.

Williams, who drove to the site, said the biggest piece of wreckage could fit in the bed of his pickup, and the rest was in pieces slightly larger than a dinner plate.

B1 bomber
B1 bomber  

6th crash of B-1B

B-1B bombers are being deployed to the Persian Gulf in a potential combat role, but the plane that crashed was not one of those, Air Force officials said.

Although it can carry nuclear weapons, the Pentagon said none were aboard the plane. Designed in the 1970s to carry nuclear bombs, the plane has been converted for conventional missions.

The B-1B is one of three long-range heavy bombers in the Air Force arsenal, along with the B-2 Stealth bomber and the venerable B-52. It has adjustable, swept-back wings and can fly intercontinental bombing missions without refueling.

Wednesday's was the sixth crash of a B-1B since the bomber went into service, Boeing aircraft spokesman Mike Mathews said.

Last September, a pilot's attempt to perform an uncommon but permissible maneuver caused the crash of a B-1B bomber that killed all four people aboard.

The Air Force reported in December that the pilot of the $200 million plane was making a sharp right turn during a September 19 training mission over the Montana prairie when the plane approached stall speed and crashed.

That crash was the sixth military air disaster in a seven-day period. It prompted an unprecedented 24-hour grounding of military planes for safety training.

However, the Air Force reported it had its fourth safest year ever with 1.37 crashes per 100,000 flying hours in the fiscal year that ended September 30.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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