The court-martial of a high-ranking Air Force officer is being delayed indefinitely because defense attorneys want to read a secret report on the fatal crash of Fairchild’s last B-52.
Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall has “asserted secretarial privilege and declined to release the safety report,” a spokesman for the 12th Air Force said Thursday.
Attorneys for Col. William Pellerin, the former operations officer at Fairchild Air Force Base, asked a military judge this week for the safety report as they prepare to defend him against charges of dereliction of duty.
The court-martial was to start Tuesday. Capt. Mike Richmond, spokesman for 12th Air Force Headquarters, said the trial was postponed and a new date has not been set.
Pellerin faces charges because investigators concluded he recommended approval of an air show routine with maneuvers that violated Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration safety rules.
The person who approved the routine, Col. William Brooks, the former bomb wing commander, has not been charged and may be called to testify in the case against Pellerin.
The B-52 had just finished practicing the routine when it repeated one of the unsafe maneuvers - a steeply banked 360-degree turn around the control tower at low altitude. It stalled, crashed and collapsed into a ball of fire.
Pellerin also failed to ground the pilot of the bomber, Lt. Col. Arthur “Bud” Holland, after being told of previous violations of safety rules, accident investigators said.
After the June 24 crash, which killed Holland and the three other crew members on the B-52, the Air Force followed its standard procedures and conducted two separate investigations.
The results of the accident investigation board were released in late September. But the report of the safety board was not, which also is standard Air Force procedure.
Air Force officials have refused The Spokesman-Review’s requests for safety board reports, saying that releasing them would compromise the process. Witnesses are told that information they give board members will be kept confidential.
A congressional source familiar with Air Force investigations said safety reports never are released.
“They don’t even give them to Congress,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Pellerin’s attorneys contend the safety report could contain information that would help his case.
Widnall will allow the court-martial’s presiding judge, Col. James R. Van Orsdol, to review the safety report in private to determine whether it contains anything that is important to the case. He recessed a pre-trial hearing until March 22 to study the report.
Van Orsdol could face a a dilemma at that time if he determines the report contains important information, the congressional source said.
Widnall still could refuse to release it to preserve the integrity of the investigation system. That could lead to the judge dismissing the charges because the defense is deprived of key evidence.