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B-52, Cobra Crash, Killing Two, Leaving Three Missing

February 3, 1991

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ An Air Force B-52 bomber and a Marine Cobra helicopter gunship crashed in separate incidents, killing at least two U.S. airmen and leaving three missing, U.S. military officials said Sunday.

Both crashes apparently were not related to combat, Maj. Gen. Robert Johnston told reporters.

The AH-1 Cobra was on an escort mission in Saudi Arabia when it went down, killing its two crewmen, said Johnston, who provided no further details.

At least 26 Americans have been confirmed killed in Operation Desert Storm.

The B-52 bomber crashed in the Indian Ocean, apparently because of a mechanical problem, he said. Three crewmen were rescued and a search was under way for the three others, Johnston said.

The incident brought to 27 the number of Americans missing in action since the Gulf War began on Jan. 17, according to the Pentagon.

The huge, eight-engine bomber crashed late Saturday while heading back to its base on Diego Garcia after a bombing run, officials said. Diego Garcia is a sand atoll in the Indian Ocean 2,000 miles south of the Persian Gulf.

Several dozen of the big B-52 bombers, which date back 35 years in service and were widely used in Vietnam two decades ago, were brought to Diego Garcia in August as part of the buildup for the war against Iraq.

The bombers, which have a wingspan of 185 feet, have been pounding targets daily in occupied Kuwait. Military sources say they have concentrated their devastating attacks on suspected Iraq troop concentrations, especially those of the Republican Guards, considered Iraq’s best troops.

In Vietnam, the B-52s flew hundreds of raids and were regarded as one of the best weapons against enemy troop concentrations.

About two dozen of the high-flying bombers were lost in Vietnam, but because of their vulnerability to anti-aircraft missiles they did not venture over North Vietnam until late 1972, when about 16 were shot down in a period of two weeks during raids designed to force Hanoi to the peace table.

The B-52s normally fly in ″cells″ of three planes, dropping their bomb loads in a box-shaped area about one mile long by a half-mile wide, according to officers knowldgeable about the techniques.

In the current war, the planes reportedly have flown at lower altitudes, with bomb loads at about half the 30 tons that each carried in Indochina.

U.S. military officials say the B-52s are raining 750-pound bombs on the Iraqi targets in Kuwait, with what one called ″fantastic effect″ on the Republican Guards’ positions, believed in northern Kuwait near the Iraqi border.

Field reports from the desert near the Kuwait-Saudi border say the rumble of B-52 raids can be heard most nights in that region as well.

1344EST

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