A brigadier general and two colonels responsible for the plane that crashed and killed Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and 34 others in Croatia in April have been relieved of their command, the U.S. Air Force said Thursday.
In a statement from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where the T-43 twin-engine jet was based, the Air Force said its Germany-based commander had lost confidence in the ability of the commander, vice commander and operations group commander of the 86th Airlift Wing "to continue to effectively discharge their duties" after an investigation of the April 3 crash.The Air Force statement did not spell out any fault found with the officers, Brig. Gen. William Stevens, former commander of the 86th Airlift Wing; Col. Roger Hansen, the wing's former vice commander, and Col. John Mazurowski, who had headed the 86th Operations Group. It said they had been removed from command of the unit Wednesday night and reassigned to new duties, which were not specified.
In Washington, Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Laura Feldman said only that Gen. Charles Heflebower, head of the 17th Air Force that covers Germany, had "lost confidence in their ability to command" as a result of facts developed in the accident probe.
Feldman said the decision to relieve them of their duties had been made with the concurrence of Gen. Michael Ryan, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe.
The cause of the crash into a mountain near Dubrovnik, Croatia, as the military version of a Boeing 737-200 commercial airliner attempted to land in rain and fog has not been announced. The Air Force said it would not comment on the crash investigation pending release of its final conclusions.
In keeping with previous Air Force policy prompted by budget cuts, the plane flying Brown and his party to drum up more business for the United States did not carry flight data recorders or precise global positioning equipment.
Defense Secretary William Perryhas since ordered the military to begin installing satellite positioning systems and data and cockpit voice recorders in all its passenger planes.
White House spokesman Mike McCurry told reporters Thursday that President Clinton had been notified in advance of the disciplinary action. "We were notified in advance, but he was not required to act on it," McCurry told reporters on arrival in New Orleans, where the president was scheduled to appear.
Among questions that have been asked were whether the flight should have gone ahead in such foul weather and whether it was relying on an out-of-date landing guidance system at Dubrovnik airport.
The Air Force commander of the squadron directly responsible for the crashed jet, Lt. Col. James Albright, had raised safety concerns about flights for VIPs like Brown in the former Yugoslavia.
Albright was relieved of his command of the 76th Airlift Squadron just five days before Brown's flight crashed, but he and Stevens, who lost his job on Wednesday, denied that his statements of concern were the reason for his being moved out.