The U.S. Air Force has dropped negligent homicide charges against an F-15 pilot in the downing of two Army helicopters that killed 26 people in April.

But Lt. Col. Randy May, a decorated 19-year veteran and squadron commander, could still face disciplinary action ranging from reprimand to dismissal, an Air Force spokesman said Tuesday.May and his lead pilot, Capt. Eric Wickson, shot down the Black Hawks over northern Iraq on April 14, mistaking them for Iraqi Hinds in violation of a no-fly zone. No one had told the pilots that "friendlies" were in their air space.

The fratricide deeply embarrassed the Pentagon, whose investigation revealed command fail-ures at several critical levels and a dangerous pattern of lax communications between the Army and Air Force.

Only one officer charged in the case will face court martial - a captain in charge of the AWACS radar plane that failed to inform May and Wickson that two Army UH-60 helicopters were in the area.

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That officer, Capt. Jim Wang, will be tried for dereliction, the Air Force said. Dereliction charges were dropped against five other AWACS officers.

Maj. Gen. Eugene Santarelli, commander of the 17th Air Force based at Sembach, Germany, dismissed the charges against May based on an investigation.

May, who was decorated for downing an Iraqi Hind helicopter during the gulf war, remains based with a fighter squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany.

He issued a statement Tuesday saying he was relieved and apologizing to the families of the victims - 15 Americans, five Kurds employed by the United States and military officers from Britain, France and Turkey.

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