A military judge wants parts of a secret investigation into last June’s fatal B-52 crash given to attorneys defending the officer held responsible for the accident.
The decision on whether to release the information from a confidential report will be made by Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall.
If Widnall refuses, the court-martial of Col. William Pellerin on charges of dereliction of duty could be dropped, an Air Force spokesman said.
Col. James Van Orsdol ruled Wednesday that at least four portions of the safety board report of the crash at Fairchild Air Force Base could help Pellerin’s defense and aren’t available anywhere else.
Pellerin, the former director of operations at Fairchild, faces three counts of dereliction of duty stemming from the crash, which killed the four-man crew.
The plane was practicing for an upcoming air show, flying maneuvers considered dangerous by the Air Force, the Federal Aviation Administration and the plane’s manufacturer, The Boeing Co.
Pellerin, who flew the maneuvers a week before the crash, recommended to Col. William Brooks, Fairchild’s top commander, that the flight plan be approved. Brooks gave the flight plan the go-ahead.
Under Air Force regulations, neither Brooks nor Pellerin had the authority to approve such dangerous maneuvers for a B-52 in an air show.
Brooks does not face any charges in the crash and may be given immunity to testify at Pellerin’s court-martial, which is tentatively scheduled to begin in May.
Pellerin’s attorneys requested the safety board report of the accident earlier this month. Defense attorneys have already been given one report, by a separate investigating board, which was made public.
Widnall refused to make public the full safety board report, saying it was privileged. But she gave the document to Van Orsdol to review in private.
On Wednesday, Van Orsdol ruled there are some key items in the safety report the defense can’t get anywhere else, according to Capt. Mike Richmond, a spokesman for the 12th Air Force headquarters in Tucson, Ariz.
The judge ruled defense attorneys should be given a complete copy of the statement Pellerin gave to safety investigators, as well as portions of Brooks’ testimony.
Van Orsdol also ruled that two conclusions from the safety investigators could be beneficial to the defense, Richmond said.
In a process that could take weeks, Van Orsdol’s decision will now work its way through channels to Widnall’s office for a decision on whether to release those portions of the report.
If she refuses, Van Orsdol “may notify the government that it must forego its ability to proceed with the case in whole or in part,” Richmond said.