HONOLULU – The U.S. Air Force continued to hold out hope of finding survivors Tuesday in the crash of a B-52 bomber off Guam, but a brigadier general said there was no evidence that any of the airmen were alive.
Two bodies from the six-member crew were found after the crash Monday morning. An earlier U.S. Coast Guard report said three bodies were recovered, but spokesman Lt. John Titchen later said that was in error. No names of the plane's crew had been released.
"We've seen fuel in the water, oil slicks, some pieces of what look like a plane. This is right within the area where we had planned our searches," Titchen said. "We are now planning our searches to include wind and water current, any kind of drift that may happen to someone in the water."
The unarmed Air Force bomber had been making a swing around the island from U.S. Andersen Air Force Base for a celebratory fly-over of another part of the island as part of Guam Liberation Day celebrations. The holiday marks the arrival of the U.S. military to retake the island from Japan in 1944.
An extensive military and civilian search continued to scour vast expanses of ocean on Tuesday for any sign of the remaining crew members, said the 36th Wing Commander, Brig. Gen. Douglas Owens.
"We recognize, however, that the longer this search continues the less likelihood there is that we'll find survivors," Owens said a day after the crash 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Guam's Apra Harbor.
Three vessels including a destroyer, three helicopters, two F-15 fighter jets and a Navy P-3 Orion aircraft based in Japan were involved in the search, which covered roughly 3,000 square miles of the Pacific, Titchen said.
"We've basically saturated that area," said Titchen, who called search conditions "ideal," with light winds, calm seas and good visibility. "We're optimistic our search area is concentrated on the right area right now," he said.
The Air Force will investigate the accident. The two crew members were wearing their life vests when their bodies were recovered.
"This is a challenging operation when we lose people we work with on a day-to-day basis, so we're doing the best that we can to cover that area as quickly as we can," Titchen said.
The accident is the second for the Air Force this year on Guam, a U.S. territory 3,700 miles southwest of Hawaii.
In February, a B-2 crashed at Andersen shortly after takeoff in the first-ever crash of a stealth bomber. Both pilots ejected safely. The military estimated the cost of the loss of the aircraft at US$1.4 billion.
The plane that crashed Monday was based at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and deployed to Guam as part of the Department of Defense's continuous bomber presence mission in the Pacific. The Air Force has been rotating B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers through Guam since 2004 to boost the U.S. security presence in the Asia-Pacific region while other U.S. forces in the area have been sent to the Middle East.
Master Sgt. Cindy Dorfner, a spokeswoman for the Air Combat Command in Langley Air Force Base, Va., said the last crash involving a B-52 was on June 24, 1994, in Spokane, Wash. The bomber was practicing touch-and-go landings before an air show at Fairchild Air Force Base when it plunged to the ground and exploded, killing all four on board.
The Air Force has 93 B-52 bombers remaining in its fleet.
The B-52 is a long-range, heavy bomber that can refuel in midair. Since the 159-foot-long bomber was first placed into service in 1955, it has been used for a wide range of missions from attacks to ocean surveillance.