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Associated Press, Published April 29 2010

Minot Air Base airman dies after being struck in head by training missile

BISMARCK (AP) — A Minot Air Force Base airman died after being struck in the head by a training missile during a training exercise.

The base did not immediately identify the airman with the 17th Munitions Squadron. Base spokeswoman Laurie Arellano said the accident happened around midnight Wednesday and that the airman died early Thursday at a Minot hospital.

"We are very saddened by this loss," said Col. David Milner, commander of the 798th Munitions Maintenance Group, which oversees the squadron.

Arellano said the training missile was a Cruise missile, which are launched from B-52 bombers. She did not provide details of how the airman was struck.

"It was a training missile, not a live missile," Arellano said. "They are inert weapons we use to practice loading (onto planes) and unloading."

The northern North Dakota base has two missions — the bombers and overseeing Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles that dot the northwest North Dakota countryside.

She said the timing of the accident was not unusual because the base operates around the clock. "Night shift workers get training just like day shift workers," she said.

The base has a recent history of mishaps, including a series of embarrassing nuclear blunders. In one incident, a B-52 mistakenly flew six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from the Minot base to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana in August 2007.

Arellano said fatalities during training exercises on base are rare and that the investigation into the airman's death was just beginning.

"I wouldn't say it's (another) black eye for the base," she said. "We have a lot of safety procedures, we have a lot of training that goes on every day, missions that we do, exercises that we do. It's a tempo. We're always ready. We're always prepared. Unfortunately, an accident happened.

"We'll continue to monitor our safety procedures and continue to maintain training to the highest standards," Arellano said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.