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Published December 13, 2010, 03:17 PM

Air Force Completes Probe into Minot Airman's Death

Improperly placed connecting pins were to blame for a dummy training missile falling on an airman at Minot Air Force Base, killing him, an Air Force report released Monday shows.

By: Associated Press,

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Improperly placed connecting pins were to blame for a dummy training missile falling on an airman at Minot Air Force Base, killing him, an Air Force report released Monday shows.

The report on the April 29 death of Senior Airman Richard Gallelli Jr., 22, said the four members of the team followed correct procedures but were not aware the equipment they were working with was misaligned, leaving the dummy missile unsecured.

"As it fell to the floor, the training missile knocked (Gallelli) to the floor, fatally striking him in the head," said the report compiled by Air Force Material Command, which is based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and oversees the 17th Munitions Squadron at the base.

The incident happened while the airmen were positioning the dummy missile to be attached to the underside of a B-52 bomber wing. The team had lost its certification for the task the previous month and was attempting to regain it.

The report identifies the airman who improperly placed the connecting pins on loading equipment as Airman 1st Class Zachariah Swan. It said he was qualified for the task but "his experience level was limited." It also said Swan stated during the training exercise that he visually checked the pins, but that the procedure took place "in the lowest documented light conditions in the building."

"While low light may be typical for this operation, misalignment visual cues may be rendered more difficult to detect," the report said.

The report did not say whether Swan was disciplined. Air Force Material Command spokeswoman JoAnne Rumple said she did not immediately know. Minot base spokeswoman Gena David referred all questions on the report to the Ohio-based command. She said Swan did not want to comment.

The report said none of the team members was trained or made aware that the equipment being used could be misaligned in such a way that the connecting pins would not secure the missile. It said the last such incident at the base had happened nearly 10 years before, "apparently without injury."

The Air Force said in a statement that it has made a short-term engineering change to ensure such an incident doesn't happen again and is working on a long-term solution, and that it also has improved training procedures. Rumple did not immediately have details on the changes.

"The loss of Senior Airman Gallelli is tragic," Col. Cleophas HockadayJr., president of the investigation board, said in a statement. "He was an outstanding Airman who received the highest praise from his peers and superiors, exceeded expectations and was an outstanding team member."

David also issued a statement saying base officials "regret the tragic loss of one of our valuable airmen."

The mishap caused an estimated $64,000 in damage to Air Force equipment.

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