US says pilot is innocent of murdering six
WASHINGTON (CNN) — A ground-based controller cleared a U.S. Navy pilot on a
training mission to drop his bombs but realized too late they would hit an
observation post, defense officials told CNN on Tuesday.
Early Monday evening, the Navy F/A-18 Hornet dropped three bombs on the site,
killing six people and wounding seven others.
Pentagon officials said the F/A-18 was participating in a "close air
support" exercise in which it would attack enemy troops close to friendly
The jet approached the target area at 10,000 feet and then descended to 5,000
feet before dropping the munitions — in this case a trio of 500-pound Mk-82
bombs — officials said.
A ground-based forward air controller initially gave the pilot the green
light to drop the bombs but moments later shouted "abort, abort" as he
realized the bombs were heading toward the military observation site, a defense
"The forward air controller must have recognized that there was
something wrong," the official said, adding that the air controller was
either with the Army or the Air Force but that details were still being
Pilot was squadron leader
Officials said the pilot was directed in the early stages of his approach by
a Navy forward air controller in another aircraft, but in the final stage a
ground-based controller directed the fighter into the immediate target area.
The F/A-18 involved in the fatal incident has on-board equipment that detects
a laser or infrared beam used by the controller on the ground to direct him to
the target area. The pilot then releases the bombs, which travel unguided to the
target under their own inertia, officials said.
The pilot at the controls of the Navy F/A-18 Hornet in Monday's accident was
the leader of his squadron and one of the most experienced pilots aboard the
aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, Navy officials said.
|[span class="captionThis image, provided by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Defense, shows destroyed vehicles and blackened sand in the Kuwaiti desert at Udairi Range on Tuesday ] || |
The squadron commander, identified as Cmdr. O. Zimmerman
, is the top pilot of the F/A-18 squadron VFA-37, one of three
F/A-18 squadrons aboard the massive ship. Two of the Hornet squadrons are Navy
units and the third is a Marine unit.
Other squadrons based on the aircraft carrier are made up of F-14 Tomcats,
EA-6B Prowlers, S-3 Vikings and a variety of other aircraft.
Zimmerman, a native of Orange Park, Florida, is an extremely experienced
pilot with more than 3,000 flight hours in tactical jets. He participated in
Operation Desert Fox as well as enforcement of the southern no-fly zone in Iraq.
His decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal,
the Navy Commendation Medal and the Navy Achievement Medal.
Zimmerman also performed practice bombing runs on the same range just last
week, according to one Navy official.
Controller, pilot wearing night vision goggles
Sources told CNN that the air controller radioed the pilot "cleared
hot" as he descended for the strike, indicating that he was on course and
clear to drop his ordnance.
After the bombs were released from under the Hornet, however, the ground
controller radioed "Abort, abort," according to a defense official.
The officials said that both the F/A-18 pilot and the forward air controller
were wearing night vision goggles at the time of the incident.
Of the six people killed, two were U.S. Army service members, two were Navy
service members, and one was a New Zealand army officer, acting Maj. John McNutt.
The sixth victim was also an American, but no other information has been
Five of the wounded were U.S. service members, and the other two were
The Kuwaiti Defense Ministry said the incident occurred near the end of a
joint U.S., British and Kuwaiti exercise, but it said no Kuwaiti troops were
involved in the exercise at the time.
[Edited by Dron, 15-03-2001]