By Douglas Moser
---- — A Methuen native and three of his crew members successfully ejected from a B-1B bomber over Montana just before it crashed during a training mission this week, Air Force officials said.
Maj. Frank Biancardi II, an instruction pilot from Methuen, bailed out of the bomber with three crew members, 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.
All four crew members sustained non-life threatening injuries, the Air Force said.
Biancardi’s father, Frank Biancardi, a former Lawrence police officer, flew on Tuesday to South Dakota, where the unit is stationed.
“We can’t say much until we’re debriefed,” the senior Biancardi said yesterday. “He has been injured. Nothing life-threatening, but he’s in tough shape. He has gone through one operation, but everything has been looking good for him.”
Maj. Biancardi, 34, was flying the plane when there was a plane error, his father said. The major recently returned from Afghanistan, his fourth tour overseas, and has a wife and 18-month-old son with him in South Dakota.
Family and friends can post messages and get updates at Maj. Biancardi’s Facebook page, his father said.
The bomber, which the Air Force said in statements was flying a “routine training mission,” crashed on Monday near Broadus, Mont., in the state’s southeast corner. The crew and plane are with the 28th Bomb Wing stationed at Ellsworth Air Force base near Rapid City, S.D.
All B-1 bombers at Ellsworth were grounded for much of the week while the fleet stationed there was inspected.
“While the cause of the crash is the subject of an ongoing Air Force investigation and not yet known, we have carefully inspected each 28th Bomb Wing B-1 for airworthiness before releasing it to fly,” Col. Brooks McFarland, 28th Maintenance Group commander, said in a statement. “B-1s have continued their missions elsewhere, and I have been in contact with the maintenance leadership of those units. With no evidence of fleet-wide problems, it is important that we resume flying and keep proficient at our primary mission.”
Military officials have cordoned off the crash site and have released no further information about what happened.
Col. Kevin Kennedy, commander of the 28th Bomb Wing, said ejecting from an aircraft is “a fairly rough experience” and subjects the crew to an “instantaneous load of G-forces.”
The crew did not have time to contact Ellsworth before the crash, Kennedy said.
Area ranchers estimated that more than 50 Air Force officials were on the scene Tuesday, accompanied by a bevy of pickup trucks, diesel tankers, trailers and at least one ambulance. In the driveway of one rancher’s property, the Air Force had erected five tents and a security checkpoint.
The Federal Aviation Administration has restricted flights within a 10-mile radius of the crash site to military aircraft only. The air space above the crash zone is closed indefinitely, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Nishizuka’s brother, Capt. Reid Nishizuka, died in April when he was piloting an MC-12 aircraft that crashed near Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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