Six nuclear warheads were mistakenly loaded onto a B-52 bomber and flown between North Dakota and Louisiana, FOX News has confirmed.
The weapons could have been fired but they never were armed and the public never was in danger, said the source, confirming a report Tuesday in the Military Times newspaper.
The warheads were flown from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., on Aug. 30. The weapons currently are at Barksdale Air Force Base.
One commander has been fired, and Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called the mishandling of the weapons "deeply disturbing" and said the committee would press the military for details.
Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Ed Thomas said the Air Combat Command chief has ordered an investigation, but stressed that the public was never in danger.
"At no time was there a threat to public safety. It is important to note that munitions were safe, secure and under military control at all times. The error was discovered by Airmen during internal Air Force checks. The weapons were safe and remained in Air Force control and custody at all times," Thomas said in a prepared statement.
He added: "All evidence we have seen so far points to an isolated mistake. ACC has directed a command-wide stand down to review process at all of our bases. Though this incident involved elements of only two of our wings, we believe we should take an opportunity for all units to review their procedures."
The paper reported that the B-52 was loaded with Advanced Cruise Missiles as part of a program to decommission 400 of them; however, the warheads, attached to the missiles, should have been removed before the plane took off.
The paper also reported that the mistake was not discovered until the B-52 landed at Barksdale, meaning the military did not officially know the location of the warheads for the 3 1/2-hour flight.
Officials told the paper there was no risk of nuclear detonation, even if the plane crashed, due to technical safeguards.
Thomas told the Military Times that the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB has been temporarily decertified from performing duties involving munitions pending corrective actions or additional training.
Thomas said he could confirm that all remaining nuclear weapons at Minot are accounted for.
"Air Force standards are very exacting when it comes to munitions handling," Thomas said. "The weapons were always in our custody and there was never a danger to the American public."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.