Tape Holds Training Accident Clues

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On a practice bombing run last March, a Navy jet mistakenly dropped three 500-pound bombs on friendly troops. Moments later, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin, a voice using the call sign Havoc 20 can be heard calling for help.

Havoc 20: "Hey, this is, this is Havoc Two Zero. Need immediate medevac. Bombs was dropped on our position."

Six soldiers were killed, but Air Force Sergeant Tim Cruising, who was calling for help, survived and is still trying to understand how the pilot could have made such a terrible mistake.

"To this day I can't fathom how, how he would confuse that," said Cruising.

It was a notoriously difficult bombing range in the barren Kuwaiti desert where there are few landmarks to help a pilot find his target.

"Numerous air crews had said beforehand that it was hard to identify positions out there," admitted Brent Miles, a Green Beret.

Miles was one of 11 men injured when the bombs fell on an observation post. They called in strikes on a target more than a mile away. And as darkness fell they made sure their position was well marked.

"We put strobe lights, flashing strobe lights, both infrared and white light strobes out," said Miles.

"We were lit up like a Christmas tree," recalled Cruising.

The Accident
What exactly happened in the cockpit of that Navy jet?

Click here to listen to the audio tape during the botched training mission or here to read a transcript.
The pilot, Lt. Cmdr. David Zimmerman, has refused to talk either to investigators or reporters, but he can be heard talking to the observation post he begins his fatal run.

Lion: "OK. Turning back in from the west."

A computer screen in his cockpit shows his weapons going from "safe" to "arm" as he asks Cruising to mark the target with a infrared beacon which makes it sparkle.

Lion: "OK, sparkle on please."

Havoc: "Sparkle's on."

Cruising gives Zimmerman, whose call sign is Lion One, permission to drop his bombs.

Havoc: "Lion One cleared hot on spar."

Lion: "Cleared hot."

But then Cruising realizes Zimmerman's plane has turned toward him.

"All I remember him saying was 'this doen't look right. He doesn't look like he's on line.' So he called 'abort, abort, abort'."

But Zimmerman had already dropped his bombs. In fact, the investigation found he had released them even before he got the ok. You can hear him begin to realize his mistake.

Zimmerman: "No way."

When asked where the bombs landed, Miles said, "About 20-25 meters away from us... very close"


In part two of his report, CBS News Correspondent David Martin will look at what made the difference between life and death at ground zero.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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