Officials at Cannon Air Force Base said they’re not sure why they lost the link from ground control to an MQ-1 Predator, but that’s why the $4.5 million aircraft turned off the runway and plowed through a fence Wednesday morning.
Col. James C. Slife, 27th Special Operations Group commander, said all personnel involved with the unmanned aircraft’s operation are highly qualified. He said while the aircraft has multiple fail-safe options should there be a disconnect between ground controllers and the plane while in the air, none of those options are available to personnel while the plane is on the ground.
Slife said a safety investigation is continuing and no one was injured in the crash.
Predator crashes have plagued the Air Force for some time. In a March 2009 New York Times story, the Air Force acknowledged more than a third of their unmanned Predator spy planes had crashed, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Cannon officials said Wednesday afternoon the plane was assigned to Cannon’s 3rd Special Operations Squadron.
The aircraft was carrying practice munitions that posed no threat, Cannon said in a press release.
The crash occurred off of N.M. 467 just east of Cannon’s south perimeter gate, also known as the Portales gate.
Curry County Undersheriff Wesley Waller said deputies were called to assist Cannon personnel around 8:30 a.m. but left shortly because base personnel had the situation under control.
Joe Black said he was contacted by sheriff’s deputies just after 8:30 a.m. and went out to the crash site. Black manages the farm for owner Art Schaap.
Black said there were base emergency response vehicles on scene and hazardous materials personnel in protective clothing cleaning the area.
“It looked like they had it pretty well under control,” Black said.
He said he didn’t see any fluid leaks and there was no significant damage to crops or nearby irrigation equipment.
“It was approximately 20 to 30 feet from our pivot system … (the damage) was just their fence and probably a little bit of road work that will have to be done,” he said. “But it was OK, everything’s going to be OK.”
Black said in eight years working on the farmland near the base, “we see a lot of planes every day go over,” but he has never seen an aircraft crash in the area before.