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ARLINGTON, Va. — A mechanical malfunction put a B-52 into a dive from which the bomber’s crew could not recover, causing the July 21 crash off Guam, investigators believe.

The aircraft’s five crewmembers from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., and a flight surgeon from Guam were killed in the crash.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Mark Barrett led the investigation into why the bomber went down.

Some of the recovered wreckage indicated that the plane’s horizontal stabilizers had the plane’s nose down at the time the bomber hit the water, Barrett said Friday.

“We believe there was a malfunction in one of the control services of the airplane that manages the pitch of the aircraft that made it very difficult for them to pull out of the dive.

“It is a known emergency, the crews are trained for this, but with the relatively low altitude and the speed at which they were headed to the ocean, it gave them very little time in order to assess the situation, to recognize the proper procedures and then apply the proper emergency procedures and the recovery,” Barrett said.

The plane’s crew had started the emergency procedures, but is unknown how far they got, he said.

At the time of the crash, the aircraft was descending from 14,000 feet to 1,000 feet, Barrett said. Investigators believe the emergency took place between 8,000 and 10,000 feet.

“As they were proceeding toward the ocean, toward their altitude of 1,000 feet, the aircraft was speeding up,” he said.

Investigators believe the aircraft’s crew did not initially recognize the severity of the situation, but any aircrew would have had a difficult time recovering from such a malfunction, Barrett said.

The system in question was checked before the bomber took off, he said. Not enough wreckage was recovered to determine why it might have malfunctioned.

While Barrett cannot completely rule out pilot error, investigators believe that to be “highly unlikely” given the experience of the crew, the weather, and the relative simplicity of the maneuver, he said.

“We believe they just ran out of time,” Barrett said.


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