ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE – The top officer at Ellsworth Air Force base near Rapid City said this week that flights are paused while the investigation continues into Thurs., Jan. 4, 2024 B-1 bomber crash.
“We are carefully assessing checklists and safety procedures to resume flight operations when safe to do so,” said Col. Derek Oakley, commander of the 28th Bomb Wing. He made the comments in a video message.
The B-1s were on a training mission when the crash occurred. Visibility was poor, with freezing temperatures and low clouds, according to automated weather reporting equipment recording airfield conditions
Oakley said the incident involved two B-1s flying in a training formation. The lead aircraft landed at the base, but the second plane crashed at 5:50 p.m. “during the landing phase,” Oakley said.
All four crew members in the second aircraft ejected. Three were treated on base and released for what Oakley described as minor injuries, and one was still being treated Monday at a hospital for what Oakley described as non-life threatening injuries.
Oakley said due to privacy laws imposed by the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known by the acronym HIPAA, he “will not be releasing the names of those affected at this time.”
The crash caused a fire, which Oakley said firefighters on the base extinguished. Neither the initial news releases from the Air Force nor Oakley’s video message disclosed whether the plane was destroyed or merely damaged. A spokesman for the base has not yet answered a South Dakota Searchlight question on that topic.
An Air Force-assigned safety team was at the base Monday to begin the investigation into the cause of the accident, said Oakley, who added that the investigation could take “from weeks to months.” He said the purpose of convening a safety investigation board is preventing future accidents.
A second process is convening an accident investigation board, Oakley said, “to conduct a legal investigation, to inquire into the facts and circumstances surrounding the accident, to prepare a publicly releasable report, and to preserve all available evidence.”
“I will not speculate on the cause of the mishap and will wait for the investigative process to be completed,” Oakley said.
The commander also thanked responders from Ellsworth and the local community.
“Their professionalism is what allows us to recover quickly from moments like the one we are currently experiencing.”
The B-1 is a conventional supersonic bomber that first came into service in the 1980s. It has been used to support the U.S. bomber presence in the Asia-Pacific region and to conduct close air support missions in U.S. operations in Afghanistan. It does not carry nuclear weapons.
While 100 were originally built, fewer than 60 remain in service at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas and at Ellsworth.