Canuck commanded plane during 'friendly fire' tragedy
Major devastated by deaths; two killed were from N.S.
Monday, October 28, 2002
OTTAWA (CP) - The air controllers involved in the accident that killed four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan were under the direct command of a Canadian Forces officer aboard their plane.
The officer, a major, is part of a Canadian unit assigned to a U.S. Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) squadron based in Oklahoma under a NATO exchange program, the Ottawa Citizen reported yesterday.
He was serving as mission crew commander on an AWACS plane on the night of April 17, when two F16s under its control bombed Canadian troops on a firing range south of Kandahar.
The Canadian officer is expected to play a key role in the upcoming legal proceedings against the two fighter pilots charged in the accident.
He was the senior officer in the crew of air controllers who were in direct radio contact with the pilots and was responsible for communications between the AWACS plane and the Coalition Air Operations Command headquarters on the ground.
Denied permission to fire
He was also the first to deny permission for the F16 pilots to fire on what they believed was enemy anti-aircraft fire, but that order was overridden when one of the pilots declared self-defence.
The officer, whose name is still classified, is said to be devastated by the accident that killed four of his countrymen and wounded eight others.
Update on this terrible tragedy:
Jun 30, 9:59 PM EDT
Pilot Faces Dereliction-Of-Duty Charges
By DOUG SIMPSON
Associated Press Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The Air Force set aside manslaughter and assault charges against a U.S. pilot Monday and said he will face trial on dereliction-of-duty charges for mistakenly bombing Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan last year, killing four.
Maj. Harry Schmidt, 37, could get six months in prison if convicted of the offense.
A date for the court-martial was not immediately set.
The dereliction count alleges that Schmidt "failed to comply with the applicable rules of engagement" and "willfully failed to exercise appropriate flight discipline over his aircraft."
Schmidt and fellow National Guard pilot Maj. William Umbach, the mission commander, attacked the Canadians' position on April 17, 2002, from their F-16s, claiming they thought they were under attack from Taliban forces.
Schmidt has maintained that the Air Force gave no warning that allies would be performing live-fire exercises when he dropped the laser-guided bomb.
Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander of the Barksdale-based 8th Air Force, recommended last week that Schmidt face possible administrative punishment instead of court-martial on homicide charges. But Schmidt rejected that course, saying he would try to clear his name at a court-martial instead.
Schmidt's lawyer, Charles W. Gittins, said the Air Force's decision not to pursue the more serious charges "reinforces the fact that Harry didn't act criminally and shouldn't have been charged criminally."
The Air Force said although the more serious charges will not be tried at court-martial, they have not been dropped. The decision means the charges could, in theory, be reinstated although that is considered unlikely.
Schmidt had transferred to the National Guard in 2000 after serving as a Navy pilot and an instructor at the Navy's "Top Gun" fighter pilot school.
Charges were dropped last week against Umbach, 44, a United Airlines pilot. Umbach was given a letter of reprimand and allowed to retire, as he had requested.
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