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The Independent on Sunday/UK

The Most Expensive Air Crash in History

Raymond Whitaker

Nobody was seriously hurt and no damage was done on the ground. But the crash of a B-2 stealth bomber on the Pacific island of Guam yesterday - the first involving this type of aircraft - was the world's worst air disaster by one measure: money.

0224 02Only 22 B-2s have ever been made. The cost of building each one is between $1.2bn (£610m) and $1.3bn, but once development costs are factored in, the figure approaches $2bn per aircraft. By comparison, the British Airways Boeing 777 written off in the Heathrow crash last month (again without serious injury) would have cost around $160m.

The cause of yesterday's crash is unknown. The bat-like B-2 plunged to the ground shortly after take-off from Guam. Both pilots managed to eject safely; one remained in hospital in a stable condition last night. A thick plume of smoke rose from the crash site, but the US Air Force reported no injuries on the ground or damage to buildings.

The crash happened as the B-2 took off with three others on their last flight out of Guam after a four-month deployment, part of a continuous US bomber presence in the western Pacific. The other three aircraft are being kept on Guam pending investigations.

Sixteen B-2 bombers have been used in combat, over Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iran. One mission over Afghanistan in 2001 took 44 hours, with a pair of aircraft taking off from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, where all B-2s are housed, and landing on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean after the attack. The aircraft were refueled in flight, and the pilots took it in turn to sleep. It is believed to have been the longest air combat mission ever.

© 2008

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