US bomber crashes in Indian Ocean

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The Independent Online

An American B-1 bomber has crashed in the Indian Ocean, 30 miles north of the British base of Diego Garcia, the Pentagon said tonight.

All four crew members on board werre rescured, Pentagon officials later said

Rescue beacons, which emit a strobe light when they come into contact with water, had been spotted by the KC–10, which is a flying tanker and was on a refuelling mission.

A destroyer, the USS Russell went to the scene.

The bomber crashed at 4.30pm GMT and a rescue effort was under way, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said.

The Pentagon did not say if the bomber was on its way to Afghanistan or was returning to the British base.

Marine General Peter Pace, vice–chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said B–1s had been taking part in the same missions in Afghanistan as B–52 and B–2 bombers.

"I cannot tell you many we are using in this war," he said.

"What we most hope for right now is good news on the condition of the crew. If we lost the airframe, that would be unfortunate, but if we lost the crew, that would be totally different.

"All these airframes are doing the same type of mission. They are providing support to our teams that are with the opposition force that are on the ground."

The £140 million swing–wing B–1 bomber can fly supersonically and carries a crew of four – a pilot and co–pilot, a bomber and an "offensive systems officer", the modern equivalent of a tailgunner.

The American air force's official description of it says: "The B–1B's speed, superior handling characteristics, and large payload make it a key element of any joint/composite strike force."

It has some stealth technology, including electronic jamming equipment and a body shape designed to minimise its size on a radar screen.

It is designed to launch precision–guided JDAM munitions as well as traditional "dumb bombs" and cluster bombs.

The 72 planes in the US air force, 51 of which are in active service, entered service between 1984 and 1998 and were first used in combat against Iraq in 1998, and were also used in Kosovo.