WASHINGTON – Rescuers from a Navy destroyer plucked four U.S. airmen out of the Indian Ocean Wednesday after their Air Force B-1 bomber crashed on a long-range mission to Afghanistan.
"The crew is reportedly in good condition," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
The crew declared an in-flight emergency about 100 miles north of Diego Garcia, a British-controlled island from which the plane took off, Davis said. The crew was rescued at about 11:30 a.m. EST by a U.S. Navy destroyer that was dispatched to the scene along with a Navy P-3 Orion plane and an Air Force KC-10 aerial refueling plane.
The crew apparently were in the water for about two hours.
The B-1B went down about 60 miles north of Diego Garcia, a position that would indicate the pilot had turned back toward the island after declaring an emergency.
It was the first fixed-wing U.S. warplane to go down since the war began Oct. 7 and the first B1-B to crash on a combat mission since the supersonic long-range bomber became operational in 1987.
The $200 million B-1 has been used extensively in the war in Afghanistan, along with B-52 heavy bombers. Both aircraft fly from Diego Garcia.
A KC-10 refueling tanker flew to the crash site and established voice contact with a member of the bomber crew, according to a statement by U.S. Central Command, which is overseeing combat operations in Afghanistan. The KC-10 crew saw a strobe light blinking at the crash site.
Later, the Navy destroyer USS Russell arrived and launched a small vessel, known as a rigid hull inflatable boat, which rescued the crew. The B-1B's home base is Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., home of the 28th Bomb Wing, Pentagon officials said.
There was no indication of the cause of the crash, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said.
"This underscores what we try to remember all the time — that the men and women in the U.S. military put their lives at risk every single day," Clarke said. "And we're grateful."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.