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THE NEW YORK TIMES
Navy Attributes Fatal Vieques Bombing To Mistakes
August 3, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE NEW YORK TIMES COMPANY. All Rights Reserved.
ROOSEVELT ROADS NAVAL STATION, P.R. -- The Navy said today
that errors by a fighter pilot and a ground control officer were
responsible for a bombing accident that killed a civilian near
a Puerto Rico bombing range on April 19 and led to demands that
the Navy abandon the range.
A report found that the pilot, a marine who was not identified,
became disoriented at dusk and picked the wrong target, an observation
post, killing David Sanes Rodriguez, a security guard.
A Navy ground control officer at the Vieques bombing range
cleared the pilot to drop his 500-pound bombs even though he did
not make visual contact with the plane, as required by Navy rules,
the report said.
Mr. Sanes, 35, a civilian security guard, was standing outside
the observation post when the two bombs struck on either side
of him, 50 feet away. He was killed instantly. Four others were
Mr. Sanes's death galvanized resentment over the Navy exercises
on Vieques, an island off Puerto Rico. The government of Puerto
Rico, a United States commonwealth, has since demanded that the
Navy leave Vieques.
''Two people made terrible mistakes,'' said Capt. James Stark,
commander of Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. ''There was no willful
misconduct on the part of either of those individuals.''
The pilot, who is 26, could face a court-martial, said Lieut.
Col. David Wunder, staff judge advocate for the Marine Corps air
station in Cherry Point, N.C.
The range control officer, whose name was also withheld, received
a letter of reprimand and could face further discipline. He has
been transferred from Vieques .
As a result of the accident, the Navy is improving ground-to-air
communications and increasing the observation post's visibility,