Air Force: Human error damaged nuclear missile in 2014

This photo taken June 25, 2014 shows an inert Minuteman 3 missile in a training launch tube at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. The base is tasked with maintaining 150 of the nuclear-tipped missiles spread out across the North Dakota countryside and keeping them ready to launch at a moment's notice as part of the US's nuclear defense strategy. The nuclear missiles hidden in plain view across the prairies of northwest North Dakota reveal one reason why trouble keeps finding the nuclear Air Force. The “Big Stick,” as some call the 60-foot-tall Minuteman 3 missile, is just plain old. The modern nuclear operation, after 40 years, is fraying at the edges: time-worn command posts, corroded launch silos, support equipment and an emergency-response helicopter fleet so antiquated that a replacement was deemed “critical” years ago _ partly explaining why missile corps morale has sagged and discipline has sometimes faltered. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Errors by three airmen troubleshooting a nuclear missile in its launch silo in 2014 triggered a “mishap” that damaged the missile, causing the Air Force to withdraw the airmen’s nuclear certification and launch an accident investigation, officials said Friday.

In a statement released to The Associated Press, the Air Force declined to provide key details or a copy of the report produced last year by an Accident Investigation Board, saying the information was classified as too sensitive to be made public.

Under the Air Force’s own regulations, Accident Investigation Board reports are supposed to be made public. The Air Force did release a brief summary to the AP after it sought answers about the mishap. The summary said the full report was classified on Nov. 9, 2015, by Gen. Robin Rand, the four-star general who commands Air Force nuclear forces.

The accident happened May 17, 2014, but the Air Force only explained the consequences on Friday after repeated inquiries by the AP starting in January 2015.

The Air Force said the accident caused no injuries and did not risk public safety. The damaged missile was removed from its silo. The launch site is operated by the 320th Missile Squadron of the 90th Missile Wing in a remote area of northeastern Colorado.

The Air Force’s brief summary said a Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile “became non-operational” during a diagnostic test on the evening of May 16, 2014.

The next morning a “mishap crew” chief, who was not identified, “did not correctly adhere to technical guidance” during troubleshooting efforts, “subsequently damaging the missile.” The Air Force declined to specify how this happened.

It said the team chief “lacked the necessary proficiency level” to anticipate the consequences of his actions during the troubleshooting effort.

Repairs to the missile cost $1.8 million.

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