We have our first look at the B-1B bomber that crashed at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota last night. The Air Force says the mishap occurred when the B-1 attempted to land at the installation, which is also its home. You can read more about what is already known about this mishap in The War Zone's initial reporting here.
The images of the crashed B-1B come from a webcam in the city of Box Elder, which is situated just to the southeast of Ellsworth. The webcam is operated by NewsCenter1, part of KNBN, a local television station primarily affiliated with NBC.
The view from the webcam (the live stream from which can be found here) shows the B-1B on its belly on a patch of grass at the northern end of Ellsworth between the base's runway and the main taxiway. The bomber has clearly suffered massive damage, if it is not totally destroyed. It is laying on its belly with the entire front nose and fuselage section collapsed and/or burned out.
A Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) alert in the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) online database says the base and the class D airspace above it remain closed. That NOTAM currently says it will expire on January 19.
When asked today, the 28th Bomb Wing's Public Affairs Office told The War Zone that it could not currently provide any additional information about the crash or about the operating status of Ellsworth.
"All four ejected safely," according to an updated press release about the incident that The War Zone received today. "Three of the aircrew were treated on base for minor injuries and released, and one Airman [is] currently being treated at a local hospital for non-life threating [sic; threatening] injuries."
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the aircrew and their families as they recover from this event," Air Force Col. Derek Oakley, head of the 28th Bomb Wing, said in a statement. "It is important that we support each other as we work to learn more about what occurred."
Otherwise, the circumstances of the mishap remain unknown. A recording of South Dakota Highway Patrol radio traffic at the time of the mishap does mentions the bomber suffering an "active fire" and "some explosions." Images captured by individuals near the base at the time are also circulating on social media that appear to show at least one very large bright flash at the base around the time of the crash, as well as what looks to have been a significant fire.
The B-1B force has been downsized from 62 to 45 airframes in recent years in order to distribute funds to other priorities and to keep the remaining jets in better flying order. Flight envelope restrictions have also been put on the fleet to extend the lives of the swing-wing jets as efficiently as possible until their replacement, the B-21 Raider, is online in significant numbers. Ellsworth is the first base slated to receive the Raider. Still, the B-1s are receiving additional upgrades in the form of new avionics and weapons, which could include hypersonic cruise missiles.
With 17 relatively fresh B-1Bs sitting in the boneyard, it's possible that this airframe will be replaced in order to maintain the small fleet size of B-1Bs.
We will update this story if and when more information about this incident becomes available.
Special thanks to user @SR_Planespotter on X, formerly Twitter, for bringing the webcam feed showing the bomber to our attention!
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