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Guard Pilots Face Military Hearing

September 19, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ A military court will hear involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault charges against two Illinois Air National Guard fighter pilots involved in a mistaken bombing of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.

The hearing could lead to court-martial proceedings against the pilots.

The decision to hold the hearing was made last Friday but not publicly announced, said 2nd Lt. Jennifer Ferrau, a spokeswoman at 8th Air Force headquarters at Barksdale Air Force Base, La. Earlier that day, the Pentagon said that the manslaughter and assault charges had been filed.

Ferrau said a date has not been set for the hearing, to be held at Barksdale, nor has a decision been made about whether the hearing will be open to news coverage.

The decision to proceed with what the military calls an Article 32 hearing _ similar to a grand jury proceeding in the civilian justice system _ was made by Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander of the 8th Air Force. Carlson could have dismissed the charges or opted for nonjudicial punishment of the pilots.

Ferrau said Carlson had not yet decided whether the cases of the pilots, Maj. Harry Schmidt and Maj. William Umbach, would heard jointly or separately.

Schmidt and Umbach stand accused of poor airmanship and judgment and failing to follow procedures in the April 17 accident. Mistaking the Canadian soldiers for enemy forces, Schmidt dropped a 500-pound bomb on their nighttime training exercise, killing four and wounding eight.

A joint U.S.-Canadian investigation found a breakdown in flight discipline, violations of standing rules governing the use of force, a lack of timely communication by the pilots and shortcomings within the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group to which Schmidt and Umbach’s squadron was assigned.

Each pilot was charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, eight counts of aggravated assault and one count of dereliction of duty. If convicted on all counts each could be sentenced to a maximum of 64 years in confinement and forfeit all pay and allowances.

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