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Air Force Punishes Top Officers Crash That Killed Brown Likely To End Careers Of Two Generals, 14 Others

The Air Force said Tuesday it is disciplining two generals and 14 other officers for infractions in connection with the crash of a transport plane in Croatia that killed Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown and 34 others on April 3.

The punishment is expected to end the military careers of all of them, military sources said.

None of the 16 faces criminal charges for their actions in helping oversee the Air Force in Europe or running the service’s wing that ferries VIPs there, the Air Force said.

The most serious punishment, under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, was meted out to two high-ranking officers - Brig. Gen. William E. Stevens and Col. John E. Mazurowski - who were relieved of command in May for allowing the CT-43 transport to fly into Dubrovnik airport, even though that airfield had not been certified by U.S. military officials for bad weather landings.

Tuesday the Air Force cited them for “dereliction of duty” for failing to ensure that military safety officials inspected Dubrovnik airport and other eastern European airfields to determine the landing approaches pilots should be allowed to use. Top Air Force officials had ordered that the inspections take place.

An Article 15 is the most serious form of military punishment short of a court-martial.

The nub of almost all the charges against the 16 officers was that they failed to carry out explicit orders of superiors, or failed to delineate lines of responsibility in their units. In some cases it was found that the officers tried to get their overworked units to follow the orders, but did not push hard enough, sources said.

In June, Air Force officials determined the plane crashed into a mountain near Dubrovnik airport during a rainstorm because the pilots made a series of elementary errors, because higher-ranking officials neglected to provide sufficient training for flights into less sophisticated airports, and because Croatian aviation authorities improperly designed the landing standards at Dubrovnik.

“The fact is an Air Force unit failed to comply with Air Force instructions” to inspect the airfields, “and there were consequences” in the crash, one Air Force official said Tuesday.

“These are not bad people. They were trying to do their jobs, with 50 million other things going on at once.”

“But as an official part of an officer’s record, this action will be almost impossible to recover from” for Stevens and Mazurowski, the Air Force official said. Moreover, “it will be very difficult for any of the (14) other officers to get away from this” in their military careers, the official said.

Stevens was the commander of the 86th Airlift Wing, the Germany-based unit to which the CT-43’s two pilots were attached, and Mazurowski was commander of the 86th Operations Group.

Two officers received letters of reprimand: Maj. Gen. Jeffrey G. Cliver, former director of operations at the Air Force’s European headquarters; and Col. Roger W. Hansen, former vice commander of the 86th Airlift Wing.

The Air Force declined to release the names of 12 other disciplined officers, but described them: four colonels and two lieutenant colonels who received administrative letters of admonishment; two lieutenant colonels and two majors who received administrative letters of counseling; and two lieutenant colonels who received “verbal counselings.”