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Air Force: Mechanical failure led to Methuen pilot's injuries

A B-1B Lancer takes off in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., March 27, 2011.

A mechanical failure caused thousands of pounds of fuel to leak into a B-1B Lancer bomber last August, setting off several explosions that resulted in a crash landing in Montana and injuries to an Air Force major from Methuen and three of his crew members, the Air Force has announced.

A part of the bomber’s wing assembly that is supposed to fold flat detached and punctured a main fuel line when the wing slid in flight, the Air Force said in a recent statement. Seven thousand pounds of fuel leaked into the bomber, causing a number of explosions that brought down the plane, piloted by Major Frank Biancardi II, 34, of Methuen.

Biancardi and his three crew members ejected from the bomber, which had been flying at an altitude between 10,000 and 20,000 feet, but were injured in the process.

The Air Force determined that human error was not a factor in the crash.

Biancardi’s knee was injured during the ejection, and he underwent multiple surgeries to replace several ligaments in the knee. “It was a lot of physical therapy from the surgeries,” he said in a recent interview with The Eagle-Tribune. “The people in the community here did a great job.”

He recovered at the base and started back to work in October, he said. “It’s been light (duty) with the understanding that once I get cleared by the physical therapist, I’ll be getting back to flying,” he said. “It’ll be about two more months, but they’re still evaluating me.”

On Aug. 19, 2013, Biancardi, an instructor pilot, was flying a post-deployment training mission over fields in South Dakota and Montana with instructor pilot Capt. Curtis Michael of Albian, Neb.; instructor weapons systems officer Capt. Chad Nishizuka of Kailua, Hawaii; and instructor weapons systems officer Capt. Brandon Packard of Ashland, Ky., when the malfunction occurred.

The $317.7 million bomber and the four men were assigned to the 34th Bomb Squadron, 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base in Piedmont, S.D. The crash occurred near Broadus, Mont. No one on the ground was injured.

Biancardi has logged 2,013 flying hours in the B-1, he said, which translates to about 200 flights. That includes 1,300 to 1,500 combat hours, or about 120 combat flights, in Southwest Asia.

He returned last summer from Afghanistan, his fourth tour overseas, and has a wife and 2-year-old son with him in South Dakota.

According to the Air Force, the part that failed was a baffle, a device that redirects the flow of air or liquids, on the left overwing fairing, a metal covering that creates a seal over a cavity on the plane’s body that allows the wing to shift or slide in-flight.

The Air Force temporarily grounded all B-1 bombers after the crash for inspections, and they were cleared again for flight.

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