Coast Guard suspends search for B-52 crew members

HAGATNA, Guam (KHNL) - The U.S. Coast Guard suspended the search for the crew members of the U.S. Air Force B-52, Wednesday, after involving more than 49 different air and surface missions and scouring over 7,000 square miles - an area 35 times the size of the island of Guam.

The Coast Guard has only found two bodies, but officials declared all six members dead. The Air Force is investigating why the plane crashed.

The craft's last known position was estimated to be more than 25 miles northwest of Apra Harbor when it went missing on July 21.

"It is extremely difficult to suspend this search," said Capt. Thomas Sparks, the Senior Coast Guard Officer in Guam. "We had excellent search conditions for the past three days, excellent support from our Department of Defense and Guam Territorial Government partners. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims and the entire Coast Guard grieves for their loss."

Reacting quickly, a Coast Guard search and rescue command center in Apra Harbor coordinated a massive search effort involving the U.S. Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy, National Guard, Drug Enforcement Agency and the Guam Fire and Police Departments. To help with the search the Honolulu Coast Guard deployed a crew of 48 on a 225-foot buoy tender, the cutter Kukui.

Crews reported favorable search conditions the entire time, with light winds out of the east at 5 to 10 knots and seas of two feet. Searchers even had good visibility with the moon illumination at 86 percent.

The last searches for survivors were completed at approximately 6:30 p.m. Tuesday (GST), but debris recovery efforts will still continue. The Coast Guard is working out of its command center in Apra Harbor and took into account the natural factors: wind, sea current and on scene weather to expand the search for the survivors who may have drifted in the water.

The Air Force reported the B-52 carried almost 19,000 gallons of jet fuel. NOAA determined all or most of the fuel probably burned off Tuesday and there is no sign of a pollution threat.