An Air Force B-52 bomber crashed off Guam on Monday morning, killing at least three airmen and leading to an intensive ocean search for the remaining three crew members, the military said.
Three vessels including a destroyer, three helicopters, two F-15 fighter jets and a Navy P-3 Orion aircraft based in Japan were involved in the search, which covered roughly 3,000 square miles of the Pacific, said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. John Titchen.
“We've basically saturated that area,” said Titchen, who called search conditions “ideal,” with light winds, calm seas and good visibility.
The unarmed B-52 bomber was en route from Guam's Andersen Air Force Base to conduct a flyover in a parade on another part of the island when it crashed around 9:45 a.m. Monday about 30 miles northwest of Apra Harbor, the Air Force said.
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The Liberation Day parade celebrates the day the U.S. military arrived on Guam to retake control of the island from Japan.
The Air Force said a board of officers will investigate the incident.
The three crew members were wearing their life vests when their bodies were recovered.
“This is a challenging operation when we lose people we work with on a day-to-day basis, so we're doing the best that we can to cover that area as quickly as we can,” Titchen said.
The crash is the second for the Air Force this year on Guam, a U.S. territory 3,700 miles southwest of Hawaii.
In February, a B-2 crashed at Andersen shortly after takeoff in the first-ever crash of a stealth bomber. Both pilots ejected safely. The military estimated the cost of the loss of the aircraft at $1.4 billion.
The plane that crashed Monday was based at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and deployed to Guam as part of the Department of Defense's continuous bomber presence mission in the Pacific. The Air Force has been rotating B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers through Guam since 2004 to boost the U.S. security presence in the Asia-Pacific region.