Defense Department program misjudges luggage

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

The bomber carried advanced cruise missiles as part of a Defense 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 authorized 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 Aug. 30 flight from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, the newspaper said Wednesday.

A Minot Air Force Base spokeswoman, Sgt. Marelise Wood, referred questions by The Associated Press to the Air Force secretary’s office in Washington. A spokesman there was out of the office Wednesday morning and not immediately available for comment.

An Air Force spokesman, Lt. Col. 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.

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